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Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review: The Pastor Has No Clothes by Jon Zens



The Pastor Has No Clothes: Moving from Clergy-Centered Church to Christ-Centered Ekklesia, by Jon Zens (Lincoln, NE: Ekklesia Press, 2011)

            This is the book that has taught me the most about following Jesus in spirit and truth that I have read so far this year.

            Jon Zens is a man who holds training in Christian theology through doctoral level, but, by the end of that training, concluded that what the New Testament shows us to be the way the church was to operate is what God meant, and what we see in western society is that tradition, having been morphed by various political and social movements through history, changed practices in the church to the degree that it does not reflect what Jesus taught the apostles, who, in turn, taught the early church.  In Jon’s previous works, he dealt with the difference between the early church meeting in homes informally as opposed to the tradition prevalent since the Roman Empire’s Edict of Tolerance of having buildings, paid staff, and ritual, in “A Church Building Every ½ Mile” and the role of women, which was uniquely equal before God and the rest of believers in “What’s With Paul and Women?” 

In “The Pastor Has No Clothes”, Jon deals with the difference between the early church, where believers met informally, and understood themselves to be responsible for each other’s growing in faith to the modern formal service dominated by one person designated in most institutional churches as a pastor or priest.

            The title, obviously, is a play on words off of Hans Christian Andersen’s children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, where the Emperor is conned, but the people fear speaking out until a little boy says, “The Emperor has no clothes.” The pasted together look of the front cover is further symbolic of the content.  The not subtle comparison is that the pastoral office (not the persons holding the position specifically) is treated with dictatorial respect, without regard to the wisdom or lack that comes from the position by historical (not biblical) tradition.

            The forward to the book states a main point—the division between clergy and laity is unscriptural; the first word comes from the Greek kleros, which means the inheritance, and all believers, by faith are the inheritance, and the Greek laos, which means the people, and all believers are God’s people.  Both words referred to all believers.  From there, the first sixty pages breaks down in simple English what the church that was trained by the apostles were taught about their common life of living for Jesus, and how the Roman Empire and later social and political moves distorted the church in later times, with the result of the church largely losing much of its unique flavor in contrast to the world, going from believers “edifying each other” as in 1 Thessalonians 5:ll changed to one person in charge of a formal organization, being somehow divinely called to this work (although no one ever explains how that works), teaching others forever, and being in charge of everything.  This is explained in a manner that is readable for the average person.

            In pages 61 to 70, which is an introduction to the balance of the book, he examines some of the ideas Eugene Peterson, the lead translator to “The Message” Bible, seminary professor, and pastor, has in his recent memoir of his days as a pastor, and his mother’s experience of preaching in the towns of Montana.  Jon uses this reference in that, in the memoir, Eugene points out certain difficulties with being a pastor, which correspond to the basic problems all pastors have today, and shows how the main problems tie to traditions that are not based on anything scriptural.

            The rest of the book builds a theological argument.  If one isn’t into reading theology, and Zens’ writing is not nearly as complicated to read as much of the writing today in the field, these first 70 pages are worth getting the whole book. For persons in a pastoral position, I wish I could buy a copy of this for each believer occupying such a position (and I say believer in that, for persons holding church office who are not believers in Jesus, this whole argument is irrelevant to them).  If one has the mental wherewithal to read theology, the conclusion Jon draws at the end I will say is surprising enough to keep everyone who cares about living to glorify Jesus .reading to the end. 

            Other writers have pointed out that the word “pastor” comes from a Greek word meaning “shepherd” and of which is translated “shepherd” the other 17 times it appears in the New Testament, which questions whether its appearance in an English Bible is even appropriate. Surprisingly, to me, Jon never brings up this point either in the general reading or the theological argument part of the book.  He does discuss what the Greek word ekklesia, commonly translated “church”, meant to the early church, and what its clearest, not tradition-distorted, equivalent would be today.  To me, that fact was worth the price and time of buying and reading this.

            In buying my copy, I am aware than many Christian bookstores will not carry this title due to Zens’ reputation for challenging the status quo (www.cbd.com included, as of last week), but www.amazon.com has it, and, given that Jon runs a bookstore in Wisconsin, I’m sure his website, www.jonzens.com has it.

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