Thursday, March 29, 2007


I have been wanting to write down my thoughts about pastors for quite some time. I’m not sure how to organize them at this time, so I will just post randomly as I have time and maybe in the process of writing I’ll figure out some kind of order.

So, to begin with, I would like to talk about the term minister. People use this term in a variety of ways, and often they associate it with the concept of clergy, but should they? Is the pastor the minister? Consider the following Scriptures (emphasis mine):

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, … - Eph 4:11-12

As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. - 1 Pet 4:10

For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, [in that] you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. - Heb 6:10

It would seem from these Scriptures that we are all called to be ministers (διακονος) and to minister (διακονεω). Thus, it would seem that the term minister is not used in the New Testament for pastors only, but for all believers. If this is the case, then is there any other term in Scripture that warrants the making of a clergy - laity differentiation? Are there such things as offices in the church?

On this topic Schweizer (I know some of you are going to discount him because he is a liberal theologian, but I think that on this issue he happens to make some good comments), in his book Church Order in the New Testament, makes several insightful comments. He looks at all the terms used in NT Greek to convey the idea of office or ruler: αρχη (ruling power, authority, ruler), αρχων (ruler, official authority, judge), τιμη (place of honor), τελος (used outside the NT to define the complete power of office), λειτουργια (service, ministry seen in LXX to be performed by the priests), and λειτουργος (servant, minister, one performing λειτουργια). He concludes that outside of their use for Judaism, pagan religions, and the political system of the time, these terms are primarily used (with the exception of Paul being called λειτουργος in Rom 15:16) to refer solely to Christ Himself.

So, is there a term used in the New Testament, referring to believers, which warrants the making of a clergy - laity differentiation? Is there a term which is consistently used just to describe Christian leaders? Schweizer points out that, even though there was quite the selection of terms which the New Testament authors could have used, the New Testament authors consistently used the term διακονος (servant, helper, minister). Since this term is used for all believers without differentiation, then the answer is no. The New Testament authors never use the term minister or any of the other terms mentioned above to point selectively to pastors or leaders. Consider Schweizer’s comments:

“In view of the large number of terms available, the evidence of the choice of words is unmistakable. … all the New Testament witnesses are sure of one decisive fact: official priesthood, which exists to conciliate and mediate between God and community, is found in Judaism and paganism; but since Jesus Christ there has been only one such office - that of Jesus himself. It is shared by the whole Church, and never by one church member as distinct from others. Here therefore there is without exception the common priesthood, with no laity. … The very choice of the word, which still clearly involves the idea of humble activity, proves that the Church wishes to denote the attitude of one who is at the service of God and his fellow-men, not a position carrying with it rights and powers. … It is nowhere forgotten that such renunciation of titles, honors, and offices testifies to the Church’s newness in contrast to the old religious or secular order.”1

Schweizer does not deny the different roles and gifts seen in the church, but he does point out that unlike Judaism, pagan religions, and the political system of the time, the Church is radically different because it has only one high priest, Jesus Christ (Heb 8:1-2), only one head, Jesus Christ (Col 1:18), and only one Lord, Jesus Christ (1 Cor 8:6). Under Him, all are ministers: there is no clergy vs. laity.

So when I talk of pastors/elders/overseers, I will be talking of a specific role/gifting within the context of a church made up entirely of believers who are all ministers and not of a clergy position.

By the way - if my conclusions are correct, does anybody know why we have a clergy-laity distinction in Christendom today?

1Eduard Schweizer, Church Order in the New Testament, trans. Frank Clarke (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1961), 176-8.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for post!
To your last question concerning the origen of the clergy-laity distinction I must say that it is quiet the historical "can of worms." From my understanding, we can see it even in the NT with the "super apostles" and those who were being wrongfully elevated in Corinth. I believe our natural tendency as humans (which is motivated by sin) is to elevate and subordinate. In no way am I saying the NT condons the distinction. But I do believe we can perhaps see the distinction creeping in even among the 1st century church. This should be expected when we recall the nature of man and his tendency to distort the will of God. This of course is a foundational reason for the need to be operating according to the Spirit and not the flesh.

Thanks again for the post!


Maël said...


When I talk to my mom, she often tells me: "Mael, they are human, they need that structure." Yes mom, but God has called the church to be radically different. It is often uncomfortable to be dependent on the Spirit, but since it is God's will, may we be faithful.

Alan Knox said...


Great post! This a great reminder that we are called to serve one another. We are called to be servants. This must be paramount.


John Purcell said...

Hi Mael,

Perhaps this will suffice as a launching point for further study?

A. Definitions. There has long been a tendency on the part of religious adherents to make fundamental distinctions between the professional and common members in their ranks. In so-called Christendom this is often referred to as the clergy/laity distinction. "Clergy" is derived from the Greek word, "kleros," meaning "lot," which originally denoted the object cast by way of selecting someone to occupy an office but which eventually came to refer to the office, and then the office-holder himself. "Laity," on the other hand, is derived from the Greek term, "laos," meaning "people." Hence, "clergy" refers to the elite class which is specially selected, trained, and supported to instruct and lead the laity in those things in which they are supposedly deficient or indisposed to do themselves. The "laity" is the much larger class of unskilled, common rank and file.

B. Reasons for the clergy/laity distinction. The clergy/laity distinction serves the desires of both parties. (1) Emulation of Jewish and heathen practices. Both Jews and heathen, from whose ranks Christians came, had priestly castes which were distinct from the common people. As it has ever been the desire of men to be like those around them to enhance their standing, so it was with the growing "Catholic church." (2) Desire for proxy religion. Whether it was out of a genuine feeling of unworthiness to approach God humanly unaided, or a base desire to be relieved of personal religious responsibilities, the common people wanted special men to do for them what they could, or would, not do for themselves. (3) Desire for authority figures and professional "church managers."

This point is similar to the preceding one except that, while that one had to do with substitution in one's relations and obligations to God, this one has especially to do with one's everyday life and relations with his fellowman. The lay person wants someone to learn and interpret the rules for him — to define the faith and identify heretics. He wants someone to tell him what to do and a leader to represent and defend his faith. He also wants someone to manage the organization and maintain its good discipline. The clergy fell into these roles. (4) Human pride and greed. Man's nature calls for recognition of his achievements. Most organizations have systems of rank or hierarchy which, aside from the practical considerations, give prestige, honor, and recognition to the achievers. It was not long before those who considered themselves more righteous or diligent within the church sought the worldly recognition to which they felt entitled. This desire to be ranked above the under-achievers, combined with the laity's desire for "proxy religion," fueled the growth of the clergy/laity distinction. Furthermore, it was not long before clerical offices became lucrative, as well as prestigious.



Maël said...


I have to find where it is in McBeth, The Baptist Heritage, but if I remember correctly what Rob told me, the Baptists started using the term reverend to give importance to their ministers in comparison to other groups' ministers. When I find the quote I'll add it here.


Aussie John said...


Great post Maël. I certainly agree with you and John P. in his comments. In my studies in church history, I came to the conclusion that the points John P. raises is a result of the reformers not dealing with ecclesiological issues in the same thorough way they dealt with the soteriological failures. In effect it is clear that much of the paganized church system remained, even though with some cosmetic changes.

Martin Luther believed that, "..all believers have equally received the treasures which God has given, from the shoemaker to the farmer to the smith. No vocation stands over and above the rest. No vocation is more "sacred" than any other. No vocation is better than another. God has called all believers, without exception, to be His royal priests -- from the dockworker to the doctor, from the messenger to the manger, from the educator to the executive. No legitimate vocation is too lowly to be the vehicle through which God will do His work" (The Priesthood of All Believers, p. 12, Eastwood).

Aussie John

Steve Sensenig said...

[T]he points John P. raises is a result of the reformers not dealing with ecclesiological issues in the same thorough way they dealt with the soteriological failures.

I'm glad to see someone else make this point, too. I came to this conclusion about a year or two ago, but haven't heard too many people talk about it.

So often, I feel like the system that Luther and others came out of just got replaced with a very similar system.

Maël said...

My church history professor attributed it to a pastoral concern, especially when it came to Zwingly. Zwingli, who, for example, at one time had practically agreed with his Anabaptist friends on baptism, thought that the people could only accept so much reform and thus did not go as far as the Anabaptist wanted to go. Unfortunately, neither they nor their descendants ever went back to continue where they had stopped.

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