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Clericalism In Our Churches

Clericalism, the division of the body of Christ into two classes: the priests or pastors that preside and the laity that sit in the pews, is a long-time tradition within Christianity. It is prevalent in the denominations and in the independent assemblies as well.

The desire to meet together with fellow members of the body is both natural and biblical. The desire to surrender one’s God-given responsibility to another may be natural but it is not biblical; it is sinful. Whether elect or reprobate, man must stand alone before his Maker. The rise of the clericalism that pervades today’s churches was a consequence of the sin of Christians, the sin of surrendering their Christ-given authority and choosing to be led by men, rather than their Lord in heaven. The above is an opinion but what does God say?

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. (1 Pet. 5:1-3)

This passage has been used in support of the clerical-laity structuring of the body of Christ. We should notice, though, that the reference is to elders that were elected by the body to represent them. As was the case in the synagogues, they were typically the more senior members that were recognized as capable individuals that the family heads respected and trusted. They presided over and coordinated the activities of the assembly; they functioned as judges that adjudicated between differences and disputes but were not, as the text indicates, lords over God’s heritage.

They served with the continued concurrence of the people they shepherded. Clearly, they were teachers, not rulers and remained so only at the behest of the congregation. To take oversight does not mean to rule over, but to be concerned with the overall welfare and conduct of the body. They were to do so, not because they were forced to (by constraint) or for pay, but willingly. The apparent assumption here is that being a shepherd was a tedious task and not generally desirable. This must be understood in relation to the teaching of Scripture with regard to the role of the natural leaders and teachers in the congregation. Consider the words of the Lord:

And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: (Matt. 20:27)

And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:44)

The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve. . (Luke 22:25-26)

So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? Ye call me Master and Lord:  and ye say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet;  ye also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord;  neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. (John 13: 12-17)

We see from these passages that the kingdom of God is very different from the kingdoms and nations of this world. In it there are to be no rulers. The most capable individuals among them are to see themselves as servants whose task is to build up the weaker members of the body of Christ. They are not to take the lead and use the weaker members as followers that do their bidding; nor can they attempt to do all the work themselves, a task far to great for them and utterly beyond their ability to fulfil. Their task is to build up and prepare the entire body to carry out the great work of rebuilding and renewing the world, the work God has assigned it (Matt. 28:18-20). They all, even the least of them, are to see themselves as individuals that receive their marching orders from Christ and Christ alone.

Such an army is extremely powerful and resilient. Its strength is dispersed throughout the world and operates precisely where it is needed, as it is needed and without delay. It is effected by each believer applying God’s law in whatever situation he finds himself in. Since Christ is its  leader, it is impervious to leadership subversion and corruption, a common occurrence in many Christian programs. It will build the kingdom that we read of in God’s word:

And the seventh angel sounded; and there were great voices in heaven, saying, The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign for ever and ever. (Rev. 11:15)