The following is from an excerpt from Philip Lancaster. It challenges our traditional thinking concerning ministry, and how the Christian Church has largely strayed from the biblical model.
“The APOSTLES Were LAYMEN”
-Extracts by Philip Lancaster.
The world and the church agree about how you should address me.
My proper name and title, by unanimous consent, is: The Reverend
Mister Philip H. Lancaster.
I am one of the elite cadre of persons who has the right to be
addressed as Reverend” (“Worthy of reverence; revered. A member
of the clergy.”) This distinction is mine because I successfully
completed a three-year graduate program in theology (I’m also a
“Master of Divinity”) and passed a theological exam before a body
of ministers and elders. Upon passing that examination I was
ordained and granted the privilege of being addressed as Reverend.
This distinction also entitled me to be the pastor of a church: its
preacher, the one who oversees the church ordinances, and the
one privileged to “pronounce the benediction.”
According to the church and the world, I am one set apart. I am a
member of the clergy, and my title distinguishes me as such.
Sounds pretty good, huh?
Yes, it sounds good to modern ears. But there is a little problem:
the title and what it implies is an affront to Jesus Christ and an
insult to every other man in the church.
As an expression of my submission to my Lord I renounce the
title and resist its implications.
Jesus said, “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only
one Master and you are all brothers” (Matt. 23). Our Lord goes on
to forbid other honorific titles among his people, the church, and
then concludes, “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and
whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (v. 12).
Jesus explicitly forbade setting any man apart in the church by
means of a special title-and yet the church has done it since not
long after the apostolic age. Why is such a practice such an
affront to Christ? Because he alone is Head and Master of his church.
The concept of a professional clergy, which corrupted the church
within a few centuries of the apostles, was a direct expression of
worldly concepts of leadership and power. Whereas Jesus had
adorned himself with a towel and became a servant to his followers
(John 13), “clergymen” began to adorn themselves with special
robes and collars and assumed a place of superiority over the
congregation of the church. Although later the Reformation removed
some of the worst abuses of this clerical system, it retained the
distinction between the “clergy” and the “laity”, a distinction which
survives to this day.
Do we see any evidence of a clergy/laity distinction in the New
Testament? None whatsoever. We see quite the opposite: the
church leaders were ordinary men who humbly served the flock
and who neither sought nor accepted any special status, title or
dress that set them apart from the rest of the brothers.
Unschooled, Ordinary Men.
Consider the Apostles. These men were hand-picked by Jesus
himself to be the foundation of his church, the human agents
through whom he would establish the household of God on earth
(Eph. 2:20). These were the very agents of divine revelation, the
human authorities by which the church received its order and
direction. Certainly the Apostles were the most important leaders
the church has ever had. Surely if any men deserved special title,
position and rank it was these men. But were the Apostles clergymen?
To the contrary, we find clear evidence that the Apostles, though
exercising their leadership role and its attendant authority, were
not a special class among Christians, a professional spiritual elite.
Let’s look at just some of the evidence.
In Acts 4:13 we read of the reaction of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish
clergy) to Peter and John: “When they saw the courage of Peter
and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men,
they were astonished and they took note that these men had
been with Jesus.” What distinguished the Apostles was not their
training and credentials; it was that they had spiritual power
because they had been with Jesus and he was with them still by the Spirit.
My interlinear Greek-English New Testament suggests these
words for those translated “unschooled” and “ordinary” above:
“unlettered” and “laymen”. The Apostles were perceived by the
clergy of their day as “uneducated laymen”! How could these men
count for anything? Who could take them seriously? The Lord
Jesus could, and did; and he built his church on the work of these
Nor do we find the Apostles claiming any special rank and
recognition for themselves. Paul called himself the “least of all
God’s people” (Eph. 3: and refused even the honor to which he
was due by virtue of his role (1 Cor. 9:12). Peter, when addressing
the church leaders, referred to himself simply as “a fellow elder”
(1 Pet. 5:1). When the Apostles and elders gathered in Jerusalem
for a critical doctrinal debate, the Apostles submitted to one
another, and the letter which the council sent to the churches went
out in the name of “the apostles and elders, your brothers” (Acts 15:23).
The church is a brotherhood, a family, in which there are no classes
of people… The New Testament prescription for leadership in the
local church is a body of elders, a plurality of leaders who function
as brothers, submitting to one another, with no one man in a superior
position to another. (You can study these passages and meditate
on their implications in regard to leadership structure: Acts 14:23;
20:17-31; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 5:12,13; 1 Tim. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:5-9;
Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:1-4.)
The clergy system is a direct attack upon the very nature of the
body of Christ. It introduces a false concept of a special spiritual
class, with the accompanying temptation to pride and abuse of
power that comes when one man is exalted positionally over
others. It also leads to passivity on the part of those who are, by
implication at least, “second class” in the church. Members of the
body do not use their gifts to carry on ministry since the
professional “minister” is doing the work.
Perhaps the worst result of the clergy system is that it stifles the
spiritual development of the men of the congregation. God’s plan is
that ordinary, unschooled men can become elders, overseers and
shepherds (pastors) of God’s flock. They can grow in grace, can
learn their Bibles, can develop leadership in their families-to the
point that they can be recognized and set apart to pastor the
church as a part of the body of elders. They do not have to go to
Bible college or seminary. They can strive through on-the-job
training to be leaders in the congregation. However, the clergy
system removes this possibility from most men and smothers the
godly ambition to servant-leadership. So men are unchallenged,
and the congregation is weakened-not mention its families whose
leaders are given no practical incentive for spiritual growth.
Can you see how all this fits with a return to what we have called
“the family-based church”? We must get away from the single
pastor model in which he inevitably becomes a program manager,
an executive in a bureaucracy. We must return to the concept of
brotherhood where the church is seem as a family and no one
man has a position by which he dominates others. We must
abandon the model that burns out one man and leaves the rest
Starting A Church
Now here is what encourages me about all this. This non-clerical,
family-based model of the church is one that can be reproduced
by the hundreds and thousand around the nation (and the world).
Any group of godly men who are committed to each other as
brothers, who share the same scriptural understanding of the
church, who are prepared to submit themselves to one another in
the Lord-any such handful of men can constitute themselves a
church and begin this adventure of seeing a family-based church
in their community.
You see, they do not need “a pastor” (meaning a clergy-type
professional preacher) to start a church. Better that they do not
have such a man, unless he is willing to function by the
brotherhood model endorsed by the Apostles.
“You mean you can just up and start a church with a few families?”
Yes, you can….
The critical ingredient for successfully shaping a biblical church is
the attitude of the men of the group. They must be absolutely
committed to the Lord Jesus and his Word, ready to submit their
own minds and wills to Scripture. They must also be committed to
one another, ready to yield to one another in love. They must not
seek a place of prominence over the others. They must cultivate
an attitude of sacrifice and service on behalf of the whole group.
The men of the forming church can meet regularly to pray for the
body, to discuss the spiritual and physical needs of the member
families, to study the Bible, to oversee and shepherd the little flock
of God. (In time they will need to recognize elders from among
themselves and appoint deacons to assist the elders.) If several
men are able to so devote themselves to the Lord and to one
another, there is no reason they cannot see a solid church
established in their midst.
Forget the “Reverend” business. The Lord chooses ordinary,
working men and makes them extraordinary. That could be you!