It is suggested by some writers that within the church no separation exists between the clergy and laity. The idea is that all of
us are the sheep of the Great Shepherd and to make any distinction by anyone is wrong and establishes an evil, man-made
hierarchy opposed to the perfect plan of God for His people. The folks who espouse this belief usually point to obvious carnal
abuses of the catholic church in the Middle Ages.
Our question herein is to determine if in fact this is belief is true. Is there really no distinction between clergy and laity?
Perhaps first we must lay to rest the notion that these terms are biblical. They are not. For that reason we are better served in
this study by using other terms. Instead of clergy we could use words like: leaders, ordained ministers, elders, or overseers.
And instead of the word laity we could substitute words like believers, followers, un-ordained people, or saints. So let’s re-
phrase our question to read: “Is there no distinction in the church between elders and saints?” I chose these particular words
since they are Bible-based words and therefore we can study them directly from the Word of God.
This question is usually based on the concept of equality. It suggests that everyone who is born again by the Spirit of God is
equal in the sight of God. God loves every child of God equally; He shows no favoritism towards any one over any other. These
are truths supported by the Bible. However, I do not believe equality is the primary consideration herein, but rather Kingdom
functions is actually the question at hand; not whether one is more loved or more important or more anything than the other.
That is why we will see from the Word of God that indeed there does exist within the church of Jesus Christ a distinction
between those who are called by God to be leaders and those who have no such calling.
The study of the church has its roots in the Old Testament and any thorough, academic study would include such excursions
into the ancient Jewish writings; however, we will limit our discussion to the New Testament based upon the truth found in
Ephesians 2:19-20: “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of
the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone.”
Our reason for this arbitrary decision is because this passage makes clear that Jesus was the Birther of what we now call the
church and it is the New Testament that deals with the time period of His life on earth and since then. So it will be from these
pages we will find what we are looking for.
Read Ephesians 4:11-16. Verse 11 says that Jesus has called certain ones to occupy certain roles in His church. It is apparent
these five groups of people form some kind of definable category because verse 12 shows that they are called to perform a
certain function; they are called to equip “the saints.” “The saints” apparently comprise a second and definable category within
the church. The first category is set apart by Jesus to prepare the second category to do Kingdom work. Is it not clear that what
we see in this passage is the existence of two separate and distinct categories of believers?
Read James 3:1. This simple verse definitely reveals the existence of two levels of responsibility and the level judgment that
accompanies each. The apostle James uses the term “teachers” but it must be pointed out that it was the elders who were
commissioned to teach (I Timothy 3:2) in the church. That is why we can infer that James’ admonition reveals these two distinct
categories within the church – elders and saints.
Read I Timothy 3:1-7. This passage shows us that the leader in the church must pass a rigorous testing before he can enter into
his official status as an elder. There is no such testing for the saints of God. Even the next 6 verses that deal with testing
deacons (who are lay persons assigned to a higher level of service within the church) do not compare to verses 1-7 dealing
Read I Timothy 5:17-20. Here we once again see a clear reference to these two categories of church folks. The leaders who do
well are to receive double honor from the rest of the church. Notice the elder receives his wages as a result of the work he
does within the church. (see I Corinthians 9:14) No place in Scripture implies or suggests that the saints receive compensation
from their labors in the church.
Leaders carry a stricter judgment for sins than do those they lead. Notice in verse 20 that elders who sin are rebuked in the
presence of all. The saints do not have to endure such humiliation; their correction comes behind closed doors with
gentleness. The leaders are set apart and different in this regard from those they lead.
Read Hebrews 13. Verse 7 uses the phrase “those who rule over you.” The word “rule” can also be interpreted as “lead.”
Would the writer use this terminology, if there were not defined leadership within the church? I think not. It is also good to
notice why the instruction is given to the saints who are commanded to remember their leaders. The reason is because these
church leaders are to be examples of faith-filled men and women after whom these saints can pattern their lives. God therefore
has set leaders in place for a distinct purpose, to be examples to the others of how wonderful the promises of God are.
Verse 17 of Hebrews 13 reveals another dimension of the leadership that exists by the will of God within His church. The saints
of God are commanded to be obedient to their spiritual leaders for in so doing their souls will be protected. Leadership in the
church is there to guard the people of God from false doctrine and any spiritual thing that is sent by the evil one to bring
confusion, disunity, or destruction. The love of God for His people is shown in the fact that He has installed certain ones to
protect the others.
Read I Peter 5:1-4. Once more we see references to elders being distinguished from the rest of the church body. Here the
elders are commanded to “…shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers…” The oversight mentioned
is simply means leading the people. Unless there were leaders who were called to do this, Peter the apostle would not have
mentioned elders nor would he tell them to assume authority that was not theirs in which to operate.
We need not go on referencing Scripture passages to further support what is apparently truth. There are indeed two clear
categories of believers within the church - one is to lead, the other is to follow. This is God’s idea, not man’s.
Those who lead do not do so of their own volition. They are called by God and supernaturally anointed to do the work to which
they are called. Let it be abundantly clear, these leaders are not more holy nor are they to be venerated as a super-class of
saint. They hold no special status with God. They are not more righteous, nor are they given special Kingdom privileges. They
are flesh and blood people who are redeemed like everyone else. But the truth of the matter is, accordingly to Scripture, they
are to be honored and given that honor simply on the basis of their divine calling and the Kingdom work they are assigned to
My desire is that this short discourse will shed light on this subject by helping to defuse what I see as a dangerous
undercurrent working against God’s church. A leaderless church is un-Scriptural. There are misuses and abuses of authority
that can be pointed to in many camps and denominations, which of course has given rise to this new call for spiritual
communism. But despite these instances of evil abuse of authority, it is wrong to rebound too far the other way and attempt to
remove spiritual leadership that God has clearly set in place in His church. Indeed there are leaders and there are those who
are led. May truth prevail.
|Is There A Clergy and Laity In The Church?