My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute. At the time Jesus walked the earth, all beliefs had priests, laypeople, temples, and sacrifices, and many cities and occupational skills were set up in a manner similar to a religion and actually acted as a belief to that city or group. An example is Paul and the riot of the idol makers’ guild in Acts chapter 19, where a business trade and the city’s religion and its deviance and its profit centers are somewhat joined and confused. When Jesus died, arose, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to dwell in the people of his New Covenant, he made a chosen people with characteristics unlike anything seen before on earth. He introduced to his followers spontaneity, worship and honor of God without structure and ritual. Within each believer, male or female, Jew or Gentile, the desire was to honor Jesus with all that was in them, as worship was how one lived one’s life, as opposed to participation or observation of rituals by a separate caste of religious workers. Leadership was informal, by experience, spiritual gifting from God, character, and obedience to the Holy Spirit. Academic status and human certifications had nothing to do with it.
How then did the church wind up with a structure like the other beliefs around it? The apostles opposed it. Third John verses 9 and 10 speak against a man who liked to have the preeminence. Revelation chapter 2 verse 6 may also be a warning of such a division. Our wanting official human leaders seems to be a human temptation, given that in the Old Covenant, God set up judges, but we see in First Samuel chapter 8 verse 19 that the people wanted a king, so God allowed it, with the warning that they would be unhappy with that choice later. For many of us, the warning about preeminence guides some of us to avoid leadership, and others who are not careful about that and other warnings taking up an official leadership position on their own.
There were elders, who meant experienced, mature believers, who were leaders with a group, but no one was over another. Elder was not an office, as First Timothy chapter 3 verse 1 appears to imply. No word that means “office” is in the original Greek of the New Testament in that sentence. Apostles, persons with a gift to start churches, did so and occasionally revisited those churches, and had others visit. Also, we see Peter, Paul, and John sent letters, and the apostles and elders in
sent a short letter than appears in Acts 15. Those are examples of apostolic oversight. Notably, those letters weren’t sent to any head person, they were sent to all of the church. Also, in opposition to the chauvinistic nature of ancient societies, the leaders were not necessarily male. In Romans 16, Phoebe is mentioned in verse 1, Priscilla in verse 3, and Junia in verse 7 is called an apostle, which rankles certain people in authority today. Jerusalem
Shortly after the legalization of Christianity by the
Roman Empire, the church wound up with buildings, and people were needed to oversee those buildings. Orators began to quote unquote convert, fill those jobs, then had a regular speaking place, and eventually formed a clergy class.
The word laity comes from the Greek word
, which meant people, which are God’s new chosen people by faith. All believers belong to that class. Believers may have grown in maturity to function as elders, or be gifted in some way, but there is nothing in scripture that indicates that they were a separate class. A clergy class was an idea imported from other sources. The word clergy comes from the Greek word kleros, meaning an inheritance. Within the church, all believers, as a group, are the church, which is God’s house, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the temple of the Holy Spirit. We are all, by faith, his inheritance. laos
Today, we have some organizational church corporations that have supposed clergy class people who overtly admit to not believing the historic faith in Jesus, or avoid the subject to maintain their salary.
For further background on this subject, including historical background footnotes, see Chapter 5 of George Barna and Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity.