Before His death on the cross some two thousand years ago, Jesus declared, â€œI will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against itâ€ (Matt. 16:18b). It is, therefore, this churchâ€”the â€œMy churchâ€ of Matthew 16:18â€”on which weâ€™ll be concentrating our attention. But to see this church as Christ created it will not be easy for some of you because you will come to this study with various denominational preconceptions about what the church belonging to Christ ought to look like. Nevertheless, in order to understand and appreciate the uniqueness of this church, it is required that one reject, at least for the moment (and I hope permanently), all denominational thinking, for it is just such thinking that has caused the church without laity to be marginalized and unappreciated for most of the last two thousand years. Therefore, I ask all of you who read here to make a genuine effort to free your minds of the denominational clutter that so easily besets us and to be willing to open your Bibles in a study of a subject that is of paramount importance to us all, in that it has to do with where we will be spending an eternity.
Acts 2 records the founding of the â€œMy churchâ€ of Matthew 16:18. It took place after Jesusâ€™ death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven in A.D. 30. As the gospel of Jesus Christ was preached by His apostles on that first Pentecost after the Lordâ€™s ascension, a day that was later referred to by the apostle Peter as â€œthe beginningâ€ (Acts 11:15), those who heard and obeyed the message were added to the church by the Lord Himself (cf. Acts 2:47). It has been this way ever since.
The Church Is A â€œCalled-outâ€ Group Of People
The church that the Lord added people to at its beginning was a â€œcalled outâ€ or â€œgathered peopleâ€ (for such is the meaning ofÂ ekklesia, the Greek word often translated â€œchurchâ€ in the New Testament) that did not consist of a clergy-laity distinction, as do most religious bodies today. On the contrary, Christâ€™s church, a church He purchased with His own blood (cf. Acts 20:28; Hebrews 10:29), consists entirely of a priesthood of believers who have been â€œbaptized into Christâ€ (Galatians 3:27 Romans 6:3). It was Peter himself who said to all baptized believers: â€œYou also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christâ€ (1 Peter 2:5). In another place, he said, â€œBut you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous lightâ€ (1 Peter 2:9). Therefore, the church belonging to Christ is a called-out group of people who make up a priesthood of all believers. As such, they are able to offer their own sacrifices to God without any earthly mediators.
Ironically, and I say this because current practices in many Protestant churches belie this idea, the watchword of the Protestant Reformation was â€œthe priesthood of all believers.â€ Luther himself said: â€œAll Christians are priests and all priests are Christians. (Babylonian Captivity of the Church, Vol. 2, p. 283). It was even earlier than this that Augustine, who is so greatly admired and venerated by Roman Catholics, wrote, â€œNone of the faithful doubts that the priesthood of the Jews was a figure of that royal priesthood which is in the Church, to which are consecrated all who belong to the Body of Christ, the sovereign and true Head of all priestsâ€ (Augustine,Â Quaestionum Evangeliorum, ii, 322ff, quoted in Paul F. Palmer, SJ, â€œThe Lay Priesthood: Real or Metaphysical?,â€Â Theological Studies, Vol. 8 , p. 583).
But in quoting these two men, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, I have really gotten a little ahead of the story I wish to tell. My point in quoting them at this time is simply this: many years after the â€œMy churchâ€ of Matthew 16:18 was established, prominent Catholics and Protestants recognized that in the New Testament, and this is going to be a complete surprise to some who read this, there was no concept of a â€œpriesthood within the priesthoodâ€ of all believers. In the â€œMy churchâ€ of Matthew 16:18 there was no laity, period. All were priests. In fact, not only did Christâ€™s church not have a laity over which earthly priests were to exercise authority, there was absolutely no clergy-laity distinction to be found in Christâ€™s church.
Even though clergy and laity are frequently used terms today, it cannot be assumed that all understand how these terms are being used here. Permit me, then, a little time and space to define terms. Depending on the specific denominational context, the laity are defined by function (namely, they do not administer the Word and â€œsacramentsâ€), by status (they do not have a â€œRev.â€ in front of their names), by location (they serve primarily in the world), by education (they are not theologically trained), by remuneration (they are not full-time, paid â€œministersâ€), and by lifestyle (they are not considered overtly religious, but are primarily occupied with secular life). Notice that these qualifications are mostly negative. On the flip side of this coin, the clergy are defined positively with reference to the things mentioned above. As such, the clergy dominate the work and function of the various churches they â€œserve.â€
A Departure From â€œThe Faithâ€
During the first century, a century that had revealed to it â€œthe faith which was once for all delivered to the saintsâ€ (Jude 3b), Christâ€™s church existed exclusively without any clergy-laity distinctions. It was not until the second and third centuries, when rank apostasy had produced a man-made ecclesiastical order in the church, that a definite clergy-laity distinction clearly manifested itself. Such remains in place until now in many different denominations. This man-made innovation was the result of three major influences: (1) a man-made molding of the original, godly structure of the New Testament church into the image of the secular structures of the Greek-Roman world which, incidentally, which were not unlike the professional-lay distinctions we find in our own modern societies; (2) the transference of the Old Testament priesthood model to the leadership of the church; and (3) the false, but popular, piety that elevated the Lordâ€™s Supper to a mystery which required priestly administration. After all, if the utterly false idea of transubstantiation is believed (a doctrine that says the fruit of the vine and unleavened bread of the Lordâ€™s Supper, when blessed, actually turn into the literal body and blood of Jesus Christ), then it is only natural to think that special care and handling of such must be given by a select few who can correctly administer said â€œsacrament.â€ However, and this is always the case, such developmental theology was the product of men and, therefore, did not reflect the truths taught in the New Testament.
The Lord Established Only One Church
Jesus Christ established only one church (sometimes referred to as a â€œbodyâ€) of which He, and He alone, is the Head (cf. Ephesians 1:22-23; 4:4; Colossians 1:18). Consequently, â€œthe man Christ Jesusâ€ (1 Timothy 2:5), and this refers to the ascended and glorified Jesus, functions as this bodyâ€™s High Priest and only Mediator (cf. the book of Hebrews). Thus, the church belonging to Christ needs no earthly mediator through which it offers its sacrifices, and any such vicarious system is a perversion of the â€œMy churchâ€ of Matthew 16:18. As such, this universal body of believers has no earthly head or organizational structure. This means that all ecclesiastical structures, whether they be Catholic or Protestant, are not just extra-biblical, but anti-biblical as well. â€œIn Himâ€ (Colossians 2:10), and this is to say in connection with Jesus Christ, the church is complete, and because it is, it needs no exalted priestly caste, like the old Jewish system, to intercede or mediate on its behalf.
Nevertheless, the Lord instructed His called out group of peopleâ€”that is, His churchâ€”to organize themselves into local congregations. These were sometimes referred to as â€œchurches of Christâ€ (Romans 16:16). Consequently, within the pages of the New Testament, we can read about the church at Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:2), the churches of Galatia (cf. Galatians 1:2), the saints that made up the church at Ephesus (cf. Ephesians 1:1), Philippi (cf Philippians 1:1), and Colosse (cf. Colossians 1:2). We can further read of churches at Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (cf. Revelation 2-3). The men in these local congregations who had the â€œoversightâ€ (the Greek word here isÂ episkopeo, from which we derive the word â€œbishopâ€), were called â€œeldersâ€ in 1 Peter 5:1-5. The English word â€œeldersâ€ is translated from the GreekÂ presbuteros, from which is derived the transliterated term â€œpresbyters.â€ Therefore, an elder (or presbyter) was a bishop (that is, one who exercised oversight) in a local congregation. This is borne out by the immediate passage under consideration, and by others, like 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, where the qualification of these men are discussed in some detail.
In the apostle Paulâ€™s letter to Timothy, he calls these unique men â€œbishops,â€ but in Titus he refers to the same group of men as not just â€œbishops,â€ but also as â€œelders.â€ Consequently, the Scriptures make it clear that an elder and a bishop in local churches of Christ were not different offices (or functions), but were, instead, terms that described the maturity of the men (they were elders, or older men) who exercised the oversight (or bishopric) in a local congregation. In Peterâ€™s instructions, we learn that these men were to â€œfeedâ€ the flock of God which was among them (cf. 1 Peter 5:2). The NKJV translates this word as â€œshepherd,â€ while the ASV says â€œtend.â€ The Greek word so translated isÂ poimaino, from which we get the word â€œpastor.â€ So, according to the New Testament, the terms elder, bishop and pastor are used interchangeably of the same man, and are not titles, per se, but serve to describeÂ who andÂ what these men are in connection with the â€œflock,â€ or local church, of which they are members. But when those in these churches started changing the government of the local church, mimicking the Greek-Roman culture in which they lived, they developed an ecclesiastical order that conferred a higher ranking on a bishop than they did an elder, eventually granting to bishops oversight over more than the local church of which they were a member.
Always A Plurality
On top of everything else, and this is going to be another big surprise for some of you, elders, bishops and pastors, who were the overseers of local New Testament churches, were always referred to in the Scriptures in the plural. In others words, when the apostle Paul was in Miletus and wanted to speak with the leaders of the Ephesian church, he sent and called for â€œthe elders [plural] of the churchâ€ (Acts 20:17). This is not a surprise for the careful Bible student, for in Acts 14:23 we learn that Paul and Barnabas, in their second missionary journey, had â€œappointed elders [plural] in every church.â€ Also, in a letter written to Christians everywhere, James assumes the established order in every church would be â€œeldersâ€ (plural), for he instructed Christians, no matter where they were, to â€œcall for the elders [plural] of the churchâ€ (James 5:14). One can conclude, then, that the New Testament order was that if a local church had elders (and this was not a given, for there would not always be men with the necessary qualifications), there wouldÂ always be at least two of them.
Therefore, according to the New Testament, a local church that was scripturally and fully organized had a plurality of elders/bishops/pastors who exercised oversight in that local church. These men had to meet certain stringent qualifications (cf. 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) and be selected by the local church of which they were members (cf. Acts 6:3). Consequently, one man could not scripturally exercise oversight in a local church, as is done in many denominational churches today. It was not until the 2nd century, in the face of various heresies (Docetism, Gnosticism, and Judaizing tendencies) that Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 50-110) argued for having a single bishop so that doctrinal unity could be maintained. By the time of the writings of Tertullian (A.D. 197-200), a structure for the church consisting of ordinary members who were served by a priestly or ecclesiastical order of bishops, presbyters and deacons, was already in place.
In the 3rd century, theÂ Syrian Didascalia Apostolorum in the East devoted five chapters to the office of bishop, claiming that bishops were â€œpriests and prophets, and princes and leaders and kings, and mediators between God and his faithful, and receivers of the word, and preachers and proclaimers thereof, and knowers of the Scriptures and of the utterances of God, and witnesses of his will, who bears the sins of all, and are to give answer for allâ€ (translated by R.H. Connolly [Oxford: Claredon Press, 1929], page 80).
Meanwhile in the West, Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage, and therefore a usurper of the biblically ordained government of the church, which recognized no earthly church government larger than that which was contained to the local church, modeled his church order on the civil orders of the rulers of the city of Carthage. In doing so: 1) He made a clear distinction between the order of bishops and the laity. 2) He sacralized the priesthood according to the Old Testament model of the sacrificial priesthood. 3) He established a monolithic episcopate that was to be the same for all of Africa. 4) He linked ministry to sacrifice, again in the image of the Temple priesthood. 5) He modeled the bishops in the image of the Roman senators. 6) He consolidated the supposed ruling powers of the bishops through various means, such as episcopal conclaves. 7) He further argued that anyone who separates from a bishop, separates from the church. Consequently, in less than two centuries, the church, which was now to be identified with Christendom, had moved from a community of priests to a separate clergy that vicariously represented both the priestly and kingly rule of the people belonging to Christ.
According to the New Testament, however, the plurality of men who were appointed elders/bishops/pastors in local churches of Christ did not exercise their oversight â€œas being lords overâ€ those who had been entrusted to them, but as â€œexamples to the flockâ€(1 Peter 5:3). In the chart below, one can see the erroneous view of the church as developed by man contrasted with the New Testament view.
Looking at this chart, it is easy to see the stark difference between what God ordained and what man ultimately created. Elders/bishops/pastors, although they are entrusted with the oversight of the local church, are not something other than or more than their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Accordingly, they exercise their oversight not as â€œlords,â€ but as â€œexamplesâ€ of what pure, unadulterated Christianity is all about.
Even so, from the 4th to the 16th centuries, the clergy-laity distinction grew even worse. After his â€œconversionâ€ in A.D. 312, the Roman emperor, Constantine, appointed bishops as civil magistrates throughout the Roman empire. He also organized the various churches into dioceses along the pattern of Roman regional districts. Furthermore, he consistently used the terms â€œclericalâ€ and â€œclericâ€ to designate a privileged class. By the time of the Gregorian reform (A.D. 1057-1123), the structure of the entire Western (or Roman Catholic) Church was shaped by Roman Law. Therefore, in the period prior to the Protestant Reformation: 1) the bishop of Rome came to be regarded as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which claimed to be the church of Christ on earth; 2) the language of worship ceased to be the language of the people; 3) the clergy dressed differently and were prepared for ministry in a seminary; 4) the clergy became celibate, and thus distant from the normal experiences of the laity; 5) the cup, or fruit of the vine, was removed from the laity in the â€œEucharist,â€ the term by which the Lordâ€™s Supper came to be identified by the Romanists. In due course, the clergy-laity distinction became institutionalized in religious orders, priestly ordination, and the seminary system.
Clergy-Laity Distinction Continued Among The Protestants
Even the Protestant Reformation, with its call to recover â€œthe priesthood of all believers,â€ did not succeed in reinstating the laity as one dignified people called to service by means of their membership in the church belonging to Christ. Why the full implications of â€œthe priesthood of all believersâ€ was not fully realized in the churches spawned by the Protestant Reformation is an interesting question. Some of the reasons why are as follows: 1) The Reformation was primarily concerned with soteriology (i.e., salvation) than ecclesiology. 2) The priesthood of all believers was interpreted according to its effect on individual salvation. But with regard to the collective religious experience, it was â€œbusiness as usual.â€ 3) The preacher or â€œRev.â€ replaced the priest. 4) The sermon became the central act of Protestant worshipâ€”the Protestant â€œChrist-event,â€ if you will. In turn, this gave the preacher the same clerical standing as the Catholic officiant at the Mass, even though he now wore a Geneva gown. 5) The scholarship inferred in such a ministry ultimately succeeded in once again taking the Bible out of the hands of the layperson and putting it in the hands of the seminary-trained scholar. In the evolution of Western society from A.D. 500 to 1500, a period referred to by some, and I think rightly so, as the â€œDark Ages,â€ the common man (or layperson) had lost access to high culture and learning. As early as the 8th century, the language of scholarship and worship had ceased to be the language of the people, and was, instead, Latin.
Although the Reformation spawned denominations that took seriously the priesthood of all believers, like the Quakers, Moravians, Puritans, Baptists and Anabaptists, Methodists, Disciples of ChristÂ et al., which were all lay oriented, even these denominationsâ€”denominations that stemmed from the so-called â€œradical reformationâ€â€”have now gravitated to the pre-Reformation clergy-laity distinction.
These churches eventually adopted the Catholic seminary system. While exceptions do exist, the seminary system, which was fully developed by the 19th century, became the universal model for equipping a generation of â€œpastors,â€ thus ensuring their enculturation into a clerical culture. Today, theological education remains, for the most part, the exclusive preoccupation of those intending a career in “the ministry” (read clergy). Ordination is still retained almost universally for the full-time, supported, church worker. Most denominations still regard the ordination process as conferring a priestly character. Para-church organizations not withstanding, there are no denominations that ordain people to secular careers and missions. In fact, “lay” spirituality is something that is rarely taught and promoted. Although the Reformation rejected the two-level spirituality of the monastery and common Christian, Protestant spirituality, with few exceptions, has focused either on charismatic and mystical experiences, or on the deeper spiritual life of outstanding church leaders. Consequently, there has been little exploring of the holiness of the ordinary Christian in the totality of his or her life: eating, sleeping, working, buying and selling, playing, having sexual relations, and dying. It is clear, then, that in all these years Christendom has not become free of the Greek dualism that relegates bodily life to a lower, less important, even insignificant, level of existence.
When thinking about all this, it is imperative we recognize that the same cultural and social forces that were at work in Christendom during the sixteen centuries before the Protestant Reformation (secular management models; professional-lay analogies; the tendency to deal with outside threats by increasing central government) are still at work even today. Therefore, the fleshly predisposition to a clergy-laity model must be continuously fought by all who would honor the church for which Christ diedâ€”the â€œMy churchâ€ of Matthew 16:18. Addressing the need to reject the current clergy-laity model, D. Elton Trueblood (1900-1994), who was a Quaker, went so far as to call for a new Reformation:
Our opportunity for a big step lies in opening the ministry of the ordinary Christian in much the same manner that our ancestors opened Bible reading to the ordinary Christian. To do this means, in one sense, the inauguration of a new Reformation while in another it means the logical completion of the earlier Reformation in which the implications of the position taken were neither fully understood nor loyally followed (E. Trueblood,Â Your Other Vocation, page 32).
Abolishing the clergy-laity model and recovering the unique dignity of the whole people of God isâ€”in theory as well as practiceâ€”a tall order indeed.
This is the second article in a series dealing with the uniqueness of the church purchased with the precious blood of Jesus Christ (cf. Acts 20:28). Unfortunately, this church remains unknown to most in the religious world. As strange as it may sound to our religious friends, the church of Jesus Christ does not have a Clergy and Laity, as do most religious organizations. Nor, as we learned in our previous study, does the N.T. authorize a pastor-system in which one man exercises â€œruleâ€ over the local church. Instead, the Bible teaches the local church is to be served by a plurality of men (Acts 11:30; 14:23; 20:17; Jas. 5:14) who meet the qualifications of 1 Tim. 3:1-7 & Tit. 1:5-9 and are selected by the congregation they serve (Acts 6:3). These men, when scripturally qualified and selected, are â€œgiftsâ€ given by the Lord to local churches (cf. Eph. 4:7-16). This means that among churches of Christ faithful to the N.T. there can never be any organizational structure larger than the local church. This means that all the organizational and ecclesiastical structures in use in Christendom today are unscriptural and, as such, do not honor or glorify the Lord they claim to serve. Furthermore, the one-man pastor-system that pervades Christendom today dishonors the Lord and that glorious body for which he shed His precious blood.
Rightly rejecting, as they do, the ecclesiastical hierarchies and one-man pastoral systems that exist in most denominations today, local churches of Christ, when they have qualified men, always appoint a plurality of men to serve as elders/bishops/pastors, as the Scriptures dictate.
However, when qualified men are not available to serve the local church, there has all too often been the tendency to look for an evangelist/preacher/minister who can provide that leadership and direction. This is a gross misunderstanding of the role and function of the preacher/evangelist/minister.
Paul was a preacher (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). In Romans 10:14, he wrote, â€œHow shall they hear without a preacher?â€ The word is translated from a Greek word that means â€œa heraldâ€ (Vine). It describes one having a message to proclaim. The preacher is to herald or proclaim the word of God, the gospel of Godâ€™s plan for saving mankind.
Both Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5) are called evangelists. In the Greek, the word means â€œa messenger of goodâ€ (Vine), and describes one who brings the â€œgood newsâ€ of the gospel. This work is identified as a gift of God for the benefit of the church in Eph. 4:11-12. Contrary to what some think, this word does not connote a traveling preacher. What is emphasized by the word is the message.
We find the term in Eph. 3:7, Col. 1:23,25; 1 Tim. 4:6. Of course, the Bible knows nothing of â€œthe Ministerâ€ who is set apart and superior to other saints. However, the word, which in the Greek means â€œa servant,â€ emphasizes the relationship the preacher or evangelist has to those he teaches. Paul emphasized this concept when he called preachers â€œministers through whom you believedâ€ (1 Cor. 3:5).
1 Peter 4:11 says: â€œIf anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion for ever and ever. Amen.â€ All ministers may not be preachers, but every faithful preacher of the gospel is a minister of the Lord and to those who hear him.
But nowhere in Godâ€™s word is the preacher/evangelist/minister given the â€œoversightâ€ or â€œruleâ€ in the local church. Therefore, the idea of Evangelistic Oversight did not originate from the N.T.
The charge Paul gave to Timothy was to â€œPreach the word!â€ (2 Tim. 4:2). In doing so, he was to: â€œBe ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.â€ His charge to Titus was to â€œspeak the things which are proper for sound doctrineâ€ (Titus 2:1). Thus, we have the work of an evangelist, or as might be considered, his duty, responsibility or office, which Paul made absolutely clear must be done if the evangelist is to fulfill his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5). The evangelistâ€™s authority does not extend beyond that of an elder, nor can it be rightly assumed that he is free from the oversight of the elders, but should labor under them when a member of a church that is Scripturally organized. But what about a situation where the church is without elders? Should not an evangelist take charge in such a situation? Did not Paul command Titus to take charge of the churches in Crete (cf. Titus 1:5)? Was this not the same point Paul made to Timothy when he mentioned to him the qualifications of elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3:1-13?
No, Titus was not put â€œin chargeâ€ in Crete. Paul left him there to â€œset in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every cityâ€ (Titus 1:5), but there is nothing in the immediate context, or instructions found elsewhere in the N.T., that indicate any such thing. Therefore, such was not an exercise in â€œevangelistic oversight.â€ On the contrary, appointing elders would entail the preacher encouraging the congregation, through his preaching and teaching, to â€œseek outâ€ from among themselves men meeting the Holy Spiritâ€™s criteria. This would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Doing so did not put Titus in charge of anything but doing his work as an evangelist and fulfilling his ministry (cf. 2 Tim. 4:5).
Well, if the preacher/evangelist/ minister is not to â€œtake chargeâ€ and â€œpastorâ€ the flock, as we see being done in the denominational world, then what is the work of a preacher?
The Preacherâ€™s Work As Revealed In The Scriptures.Â
The preacher’s work is gleaned from a study of Paulâ€™s various instructions to Timothy and Titus.
First, because the preacher is not directly inspired today, he must devote himself to the study of the Scriptures so that in his lessons he may be â€œrightly dividing the word of truthâ€ (1 Tim. 4:13; 2 Tim. 2:15). Christians need to understand that the preacher in his study is just as much â€œon the jobâ€ as the preacher who is out â€œpounding the pavement.â€ Study is hard work. In fact, in some instances it can be as exhausting as physical labor, in that â€œmuch study,â€ the ancient preacher told us, â€œis wearisome to the fleshâ€ (Eccl. 12:12). Some preachers, more inclined to be gregarious than others, spend their time visiting around the community and seeking opportunities to teach. This is well and good. However, they may find it difficult to buckle down for the hard, exhausting work of studying. The lack of study will show in their preaching and the brethren will start to complain. Surely, a faithful minister of the gospel will not become so entangled in the affairs of life that he cannot find the time to study. Unfortunately, some preachers receive â€œfull timeâ€ support while devoting much of their time to fishing, golfing, selling, et cetera. But the Scriptures say that â€œno one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldierâ€ (2 Tim 2:4). So, although it is frequently overlooked, a preacher must spend a great deal of his time in studying Godâ€™s word, contemplating its application, and praying for its adoption.
Second, the work of a preacher is to â€œpreach the word,â€ which includes convincing, rebuking and exhorting with all longsuffering and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). There is an unwholesome trend among some brethren today to minimize the importance of pulpit preaching, and to over-emphasize other forms of evangelism. These want to measure a preacherâ€™s effectiveness by how many cold calls he makes in â€œpersonal work.â€ Such an attitude is unfair in that it magnifies one kind of evangelism over against another. In truth, neither of these forms of evangelism should be ignored, for both pulpit and individual teaching are important. But to judge a preacherâ€™s effectiveness by one or the other is a serious mistake. Paul said that he â€œkept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to houseâ€ (Acts 20:20). Further, the evangelist is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ â€œin season and out of seasonâ€ (2 Tim. 4:2), which simply means when it is well received and when itâ€™s not.
Third, the preacher is to â€œset in order the things that are lackingâ€ (Titus 1:5). This includes, as the immediate context indicates, the appointing of elders. As weâ€™ve already pointed out, this would involve teaching the members their responsibilities, as well as conveying the actual qualifications set forth in Titus 1:5-9. Further, the preacher must hold fast the pattern of sound words, charging some that they â€œteach no other doctrineâ€ (1 Tim 1:3; Titus 1:10-14; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). He must warn the church against apostasy (1 Tim. 4:1-7; Acts 20:29-31). Even elders, when convicted of sin, must be publicly rebuked (1 Tim. 5:19-22; Titus 3:10-11).
Fourth, the preacherâ€™s work involves training others so they can be effective servants of Christ: â€œAnd the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others alsoâ€ (2 Tim. 2:2). This would entail teaching the younger men with the view that they will develop into elders, deacons and preachers. When a preacher has done his duty to train others, the work continues to move forward even when he is absent preaching and teaching elsewhere, or when he moves on to another work. A congregation that has talented men who have been taught well are able to function effectively without a â€œfull timeâ€ evangelist.
Fifth, the preacher is called upon by God to be â€œan example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purityâ€ (1 Tim. 4:12; 5:22). The man doing these things will be an asset to the local church and will, no doubt, be highly esteemed in love for his workâ€™s sake (1 Thess. 5:13). Being fully supported to preach the gospel on a regular basis is a privilege and trust that must never be abused by those who desire to live faithfully before the Lord.
Who Are Missionaries?
Â Commonly held is the idea that there are only a few select, spiritually elite, individuals who are called to be â€œmissionaries.â€ These, we are told, fulfill a very special role in the body of Christ and often at great peril to themselves. To bolster this idea, we hear some saying, â€œNot everyone can go, but most can give, and certainly all can pray.â€ At first, this appears to be just another way of saying that there is room for everyone to be involved in the kingdom of God, albeit in different ways. Consequently, it sounds quite biblical. Itâ€™s not.
The Word â€œClergyâ€
Â It is ironic but trueÂ that the Greek wordÂ kleros, the word from which we get our English word â€œclergy,â€ is used in the Bible to refer to the whole people of God, not just a few (cf. Kittle and Friedrich,Â Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, III, 763).
In fact, all the people of God receive a â€œplaceâ€ or â€œinheritanceâ€ (kleros) through the gospel. As Jesus is reported to have said to the apostle Paul, â€œI will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance [kleros] among those who are sanctified by faith in Meâ€ (Acts 26:17-18). Nowhere does the Bible use this word to describe someone appointed to an office in the church. It is important to note that the word was not used to refer to â€œclergyâ€ until the third century. It was at that time that â€œlaityâ€ began to be used, as well, for it goes without saying that a â€œlaityâ€ can only exist when it has an opposite against which to define itself, and throughout the first and second century there was simply no such opposite. Consequently, it ought to be clear to anyone interested in what the Bible says about church matters that the clergy-laity distinction, so prevalent in Christendom, is totally unscriptural and an invention of man and makes up at least some of the â€œperverse thingsâ€ of which Paul warned the first century church of (cf. Acts 20:30).
The church of the first century had no â€œlaity.â€ All were â€œclergy,â€ in the Bible sense of that word, in that all members of the Lordâ€™s church had obtained a â€œplace,â€ â€œportion,â€ or â€œinheritanceâ€ in the kingdom of God. As such, those who make up the Lordâ€™s church or kingdom are described as â€œa chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special peopleâ€ (1 Pet. 2:9), a â€œkingdom of priestsâ€ (Rev. 1:6), a â€œholy priesthoodâ€ that is able â€œto offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christâ€ (1 Pet. 2:5). In such a place, there is no room for some earthly mediator or priest. The glorified man, Jesus Christ, who now rules as King of kings and Lord of lords, is not just our High Priest, but He is the only â€œmanâ€ authorized to be the Mediator between us and the Father (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5).
I wish that the denominational world could see, by faith, that glorious and all-sufficient church for which Christ died as it really isâ€”truly a church without laity. However, I am afraid that many â€œclergyâ€ will do their utmost to keep their counterparts ignorant about the true structure and governance of the Lordâ€™s church. What a pity.
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