Friday, February 12, 2010

Neither Clergy nor Laity

Here's a clip from a long but excellent post on the New Testament vision of ministry by Ben Witherington.

The Greek word laos from which we get the term laity simply means the people of God. It is used this way over and over again in the NT, sometimes of Israel sometimes of those who are in Christ, but in neither case is it used to refer to a particular kind or class of believing persons who are set apart from the 'clergy'. And about that word clergy, it is not a Biblical word at all. Webster's tells us it comes to us from the Medieval French word clerc (13th century), but in fact ultimately the term comes from the Greek κλρος - klēros, "a lot", "that which is assigned by lot" (allotment) or metaphorically, "inheritance". So it partially has a Biblical root, but no persons in the NT are called kleroi to distinguish a class of ministers. And there is a good reason for this.

First of all the reason is that Christ and his sacrifice has torn down the wall not only between God and an alienated and lost humanity, but also the wall between Jew and Greek, between slave and free, between male and female, and yes between priests and ordinary folk. There is no priesthood as a class of individual ministers in the NT. There are in fact two priesthoods--- the unique heavenly high priesthood of Christ, as described in glorious technicolor in Hebrews, and the priesthood of all believers as described in 1 Peter and elsewhere. In other words, no one on earth is or can be a priest like Jesus, and on the other hand, every believer is part of the 'kingdom of priests' foreseen by Moses, and actualized by Jesus.

And so it is that the author of 1 Peter is not saying something novel when he throws down the gauntlet and says to his Christian audience "but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, so that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" ( 1 Pet. 2.9). This friends is the Magna Carta of Christian identity and Christian freedom, and among other things it means we are all laity, and we are all priests. We will unpack the implications of this wonderful verse in a moment, but first we need to answer a question--- if what I say is true, what went wrong with Christian religion, and when did it happen? Why do we continue to have a clergy club and laity conferences for non-clergy?


Rachel said...

Good thoughts. Jess Scarborough keeps telling me about the book Pegan Christianity...sounds like the same thought line.

Travis Greene said...


Yeah, I think it does. I haven't read that book, but I have read other stuff by the same author.