Summary: At this point in Christian history we’ve been so ingrained with our concept of what “church” is, it can be a real shock to our systems to find out what the Bible says it is.
I may have opened a can of worms by bringing up the definition of “church.” At this point in Christian history we’ve been so ingrained with our concept of what “church” is, it can be a real shock to our systems to find out what the Bible says it is.
I got a phone call from my buddy Roger this morning. He’s a pastor; he reads the Purpose Letter each week and either encourages me or sets me straight. Sometimes both. He’s been reading the last few weeks and wanted to give me a few tips about treading on thin ice.
After we discussed “church” for a few minutes – about what it was and wasn’t and was supposed to be – I asked him, “Roger, is God’s work done on earth through the church or in spite of it?”
He answered, “God’s work is done through His church and in spite of ours.” Touché.
Last week we examined Webster’s definition #1 of “church” being “a building for public and especially Christian worship.” We also figured out that when Jesus first brought up the idea He didn’t use the word “church” and He wasn’t talking about a building … at least not one made from bricks and mortar.
Which brings us to Webster’s definition #2: “church” is “the clergy or officialdom of a religious body.” These are the folks who run things. Their offices are in Webster’s #1 – “church”- the building. They’re what’s known as “the clergy.” We (us in the pews) are what’s known as “the laity.” I’m one of “the laity.” Roger is one of “the clergy.” That’s how he knows so much about thin ice.
Just so you know, “clergy” means, “ordained Christian ministers collectively.” “Laity” means “people who are not priests or clerics collectively.” That’s pretty simple. According to Webster’s #2 the clergy is the church.
What’s the laity? Chopped liver?
I’m not being fair. Webster’s definition #3: “church” is “a body or organization of religious believers.” That includes the laity doesn’t it? Darned right it does. Thank Webster’s we’re still included in the “church.” But to be completely fair, Webster’s definition #5: “church” - “the clerical profession” does exclusively mean the clergy. Clergy two - Laity one ... but at least we’re mentioned, even if it’s “professional church” versus “amateur church.”
I’d better stop here and toss out a disclaimer.
I’m not throwing down on pastors, priests, bishops, deacons, prophets, apostles, reverends, or anyone else with a title who makes his (or her) living off an organization called “the church.” If it wasn’t for these folks there wouldn’t be any organization in the organization and all of us laity would be left to our own devices on Sunday morning. It’d be a mess.
My objective in all of this is to point out what Webster’s says “church” is (and definition-wise Webster’s speaks for all of us, clergy and laity alike. I mean, we bought the dictionary, didn’t we?) as opposed to what the Word says “church” is.
So let’s see if Webster’s holds water – biblically speaking.
The words “clergy” and “laity” don’t appear in the Bible. To be fair, “priest” and “priests” appear in the Bible lots and lots. “Layman,” “lay person,” and “lay people” appear too – always described as opposed to the priests. So there is a biblical precedent for the separation of “priests” and “lay people” … in the Old Testament.
The New Testament mentions “priest” and “priests” a lot too. And it seems to make a distinction, but not between priests and lay people (no mention of laity in the NT); the distinction is between “priests” and a “priest.” First there’s the “priests”; these were the “clergy” or “officialdom” of the Jewish religious world in Jesus’ time. They were also the guys always at odds with Jesus.
Probably a little jealousy and competition there.
These priests were the mediators between God and the Jewish community. They were in charge and they liked it that way. Then along comes this scruffy prophet from Nazareth (like anything good could ever come out of Nazareth) with a ragtag gaggle of disciples. Jesus dared to challenge these priests publicly, calling them hypocrites. He broke the Sabbath laws and when they called him on it, he told them that he was the “Lord of the Sabbath.” Blasphemy! He was constantly saying seditious things against these priests, the Temple and their religious system in general. There was no love lost between these priests and Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t laity, but he wasn’t one of the “priests” either. He was a priest; more accurately, the Priest. A “priest in the order of Melchizadek.” What does that mean? According to the writer of Hebrews it meant that this Priest was the last Priest, the only Priest men will ever need again.