Summary: What we need in our day is to refocus on the biblical model for ministry.
Ephesians: Our Identity in Christ ~ Part 15
Eliminating the Laity
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-12)
What's wrong with the church in our society today? Why is it declining? Why is it apparently so lacking in spiritual vitality?
No doubt many factors could be sighted to explain why churches and even denominations plateau and decline. Perhaps there is a loss of visionary leadership. Some denominations were founded by visionary men. After these men passed from the scene, the denominations lost sight of their vision. They began to flounder and fail. Perhaps the vision has been replaced with organizational structures. An organization without a vision will eventually calcify and lose the flexibility to change and adapt. While the message never changes the methods must. Many denominational ships strike the rocks here. And as a result the church or denomination begins to isolate itself further. This isolation only increases the rate at which it declines. Finally, sin is certainly a reason why many churches decline. In both Old and New Testaments, when there was blatant and unrepentant sin in the congregation, that sin had to be dealt with before the community of God's people could move forward. The sins of Achan in Joshua 7 and Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 testify to this. We are only kidding ourselves if we presume that God winks at sin. He is a holy God and calls us to be holy people.
There are probably many more factors which could be cited to help explain the anemia of the church. But there is one major factor which has had devastating results. This enormous and comprehensive aberration is that the church has developed a laity.
Somewhere in church history there developed a notion of a clergy --- those paid to do ministry --- and a laity --- those who receive the ministry. This notion has developed to the point where today there is what is known as a clergy-laity dichotomy. What this means is that there has developed a view that there are ministers paid to do all the ministry and that the common folk in the pew pay them to do it. But this is not what the Bible teaches at all. How did we drift so far from biblical teaching?
What we need in our day is to refocus on the biblical model for ministry. Where this has been done, and the biblical model has been tried, it has succeeded. What we find in the Bible may not be what we have accepted through tradition, but it will be what God intends, and it will be what will work.
The real need which the Word of God reveals is to eliminate the laity. The laity, as we define it in most of our churches, truly needs to be eliminated. How do we do that? We do it by equipping them to minister. This is what the Bible teaches is the true role for all God's people. The professional ministers are not paid to do all the ministering. The people of God are called to minister.
Having said that, let me add that there are those gifted people who have been given to the church. But those gifted people whom Christ has given as leaders are given for a purpose. Therefore, it is important to look at both the people and the purpose.
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers . . . (4:11)
The people who are considered in this verse are the people God has gifted to provide leadership in His church. There are Christ's gifts to the church. We have already looked briefly at some of the gifts of the Spirit given to individuals. Here we come upon the gifts of the resurrected Christ to His church. These are gifts that He gave in order to establish and lead the church.
Apostles are the first category of gifted individuals. An apostle is one who is sent. In most of the places where this term occurs it refers to the original twelve apostles. These were men chosen by Jesus to be with Him and to occupy a special place in the future kingdom. But there is also a wider application given to apostles. There were a number of other people to whom this term was applied in the New Testament. We see Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), Silas (1 Thess. 2:7), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:9), James, Jesus' brother (Gal. 1:19), and Andronicus and Junias (Rom. 16:7) referred to as apostles. These were people of wide influence in the church generally. Their ministry was instrumental in the establishment of churches. And in that sense the ministry of an apostle lives on to this day.