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The Clergy-Laity Church System

Why is it that virtually every advance of Christianity throughout history was not sustained but faltered at some point? Is there a common cause for this? Why does the early enthusiasm fade away so soon? To a great extent it is due to an attitude typical of lay Christians, one that sees kingdom work as short-term and temporary. They get involved, gain some victories, feel that the battle has been won, and then go back to sleep, leaving the bulk of the work to others. The lay Christian in this class-structured environment doesn’t see himself as personally involved in a life-long, never-ending struggle. Rather, he sees long-term kingdom-building activity as the minister’s life-work and not his own. He sees his role as financial support and perhaps being ready to step in and give a hand when it’s needed. Instead of taking an ongoing, active part himself, he leaves the bulk of the work of building God’s kingdom to the clergy: pastors, missionaries, and others in “full time Christian service.”  He fails to realize that full time service is required of all God’s people: full time, that is, in the sense that defending and building God’s kingdom should always be a concern. This responsibility should be so present in mind that the believer is always ready to speak up and take appropriate action whenever and wherever it is needed. This ever-present readiness of all Christians to defend and build God’s kingdom everywhere and anywhere is what is lost in the divided, clergy-laity church system. This is an extremely great loss. It boggles the mind to think of how much more progress might have been realized and how different the world might be today had all Christians remained the full-time workers they were to begin with.

Christ commands all Christians to participate in the teaching of the nations (Matt. 28: 18-20). How are they to do this? Why, through communicating to everyone they can in any way they can the nature of their faith and why it’s so important to obey and live by The Ten Commandments. This task is far too great, and is in fact impossible for a small cadre of clergymen. It requires the active participation of all believers. Yes, of course some will be able to focus on the task a greater percentage of their time but the task cannot be left entirely in their hands. When it is—well, we see the result.

When Christians are part-timers, the total effort put forth in support of Christianity is eventually reduced to only a small fraction of what it could and should be. The typical Christian ends up spending almost all his time on personal matters and little or no time in activity that bears on the building of God’s kingdom.

But the issue isn’t just the lack of time spent; part time Christians often fail to speak up or take action, even when very little time is involved. They tend to leave the defense of the faith to a small cadre of clergymen that they see as God’s chosen, responsible, and much more capable agents for such work. The problem with this is that the action typically cannot be delayed; an immediate response to a question or a challenge is normally required and, when it isn’t forthcoming the damage is done. When God’s law is impugned or ignored and nothing is said by God’s people, all that observe it go away with a lower opinion of Christianity. Such events continually demean the faith; they take place in the culture at large. outside the influence of the clergy.

The message of the kingdom, instead of being defended and supported by all Christians everywhere in the culture is restricted to the elite few and limited to the houses of worship. The Gospel in its broad sense, instead of being proclaimed throughout the population and ringing from the rafters of every public place is restricted to the few churches that preach it and where few of those that most need to hear the message are ever to be seen. The faith cannot prosper and grow when its development is left to an elite and the great majority of Christians are only minimally involved in promoting and defending it.

When Christians understand and then feel and act in accord with their God-given responsibilities, they are rewarded by a sense of knowing that they are doing what they were created to do. They sense an affinity with their Lord and know they are an essential part of His plan to save the world. In every circumstance they face, they see themselves as God’s redeemed servants, His emissaries, chartered to do their part in the teaching of the nations. Every experience is a challenge and an opportunity to serve the Lord that rescued them, remade them, and assigned them to represent Him in this world. They see that their work is significant and, to please Him, they do it as well as they can. The result is that much is accomplished and God’s kingdom progresses and grows by leaps and bounds.

When they abdicate and delegate this task to the clergy (as they have done for over a thousand years) this sense of purpose fades away. The believers may know they should be doing more but the sharp incentive isn’t there; they rationalize their responsibility away, transferring it to the full-time Christians, the clergy. They view themselves as part-timers; some will usually respond to calls for help temporarily but when the crisis passes, they relax, return to their other interests and leave the long-term work to the clergy.

The mere presence of a clergy class is sufficient to so demotivate most lay believers that their contribution to the furtherance of the kingdom dwindles to a tiny fraction of what it could and should be. The almost universal disposition of lay Christians when they see the need for the expression of the Christian perspective on a particular issue is to leave it to the pastor or an elder. After all, they rationalize, this is their duty; they have the proper stature and are clearly so much more knowledgeable and capable. As a consequence, the appropriate and sometimes very much needed, words or actions are rarely invoked.

This two-layer church system, consisting of clergy and lay persons, now pervades the entire Christian world. Because of it, lay Christians for centuries, have generally not paid much heed to Christ’s command to seek His kingdom as their first priority in life (Matt. 6:33).

This two-tier church system is incapable of producing the kind of Christians needed to defeat the forces of Satan. All this stems from an inadequate understanding of the nature and purpose of the body of Christ. It is the future of the world. Like it or not, because his work is the fundamental factor in whether God’s kingdom advances or declines, the future of Christianity is in the hands of the lay Christian. The ecclesia system recognizes this and is the only route to a successful future.

To be successful, God’s work must be done God’s way and that way is through individual believers meeting together in the ecclesia environment and “seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness” whenever and wherever the need or opportunity arises. When the ecclesia is obedient and abandons the follow-the-leader, clergy-laity system, each individual believer becomes an independent force working for God’s righteousness, involved in tearing down the gates of Hell and building the kingdom.

As independently governed agents, the people of God cannot be misdirected by false or inept leaders and in the aggregate they become a truly irresistible force. They, governed by the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of every individual, are thereby made virtually impervious to subversion, misguided direction and the foibles of sinful leadership. Yes, some will go in the wrong direction but as they mature in the faith more and more will do what is right. What will not happen is what has happened repeatedly throughout history, great segments of the Christian population being led in a direction contrary to God’s word. Men may think they have the ultimate solution to advancement or to dealing with problems but God’s way is always the best and really the only way.

The overwhelming Scriptural support for the classless ecclesia system that shows it is truly God’s way will be the subject of future articles.