Chapter 5 opens with the wicked title “The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning.” In spite of the incendiary nature of the title, the information in this chapter is important in understanding the history and roots of the clergy/laity divide.
“The pastor is the dominating focal point, mainstay, and centerpiece of the contemporary church. He is the embodiment of Protestant Christianity.”
In order to read this chapter without blood pressure medication, I would suggest that you interpret the term pastor being deconstructed in the book specifically to mean the role of the pastor as a person divinely appointed to mediate between God and the people.
Not every person who serves the body as a pastor functions under this elevated perception of their role. Therefore while reading this chapter it is important to distinguish between the role of pastor as mediator and the term pastor referring to specific individuals who serve as pastors.
Again, I will provide a brief overview that cannot do justice to the detailed history contained in this chapter. The book contains much more information about the shift from priest to pastor, the history of ordination, and the changes that occurred with the Reformation.
The chapter starts appropriately with a description of mankind’s “fallen quest for a human mediator, clamoring for a king rather than living under God’s direct headship.”
In the early church, leaders were recognized by their service and spiritual maturity rather than by a title or an office. They were not set above the rest of the flock. They were those who served among them.
Since that time, the church has derived its pattern for organization from the societies in which it has been placed – despite our Lord’s warning that He was initiating a new society with a unique character.
Ignatius elevated one of the elders in each church above all the others, calling him the bishop. In Ignatius’s mind, the bishop was the remedy for dispelling false doctrine and establishing church unity. He was seen as the spokesperson and head of the congregation and the one who controlled all church activities.
By the third century, every church had its own bishop. The clergy/laity gap widened to the point of no return. Clergymen were the trained leaders of the church – the guardians of orthodoxy – the rulers and teachers of the people. They possessed gifts and graces not available to the laity – second-class, untrained Christians.
By the fourth century human hierarchy and “official ministry” institutionalized the church of Jesus Christ and hardened the arteries of the once living, breathing ekklesia of God. By the fifth century, the concept of the priesthood of all believers had completely disappeared from Christian practice. Access to God was now controlled by the clergy caste.
The clergy had the prestige of church office bearers, the privileges of a favored class, and the power of a wealthy elite. They had become an isolated class with a separate civil status and way of life. Being a church officer had become a career. Ordination created a special caste of Christian and restricted ministry to a few believers. This led to the profoundly mistaken idea that there are sacred professions (a call to ministry) and ordinary professions.
While the Reformers opposed the pope and his religious hierarchy, they still held to the belief that “ministry” was an institution that was closeted among the few who were “called” and “ordained.” Luther held to the idea that those who preach needed to be specially trained. The Reformers believed that the pastor possessed divine power and authority. He did not speak in his own name, but in the name of God.
It was the ordained minister’s duty to convey God’s revelation to His people. The minister was viewed by the church as the “man of God” – the mediator between God and His people to communicate the divine will.
Negative impact of the clergy/laity distinction:
- Divides the believing community into first- and second-class Christians.
- Privileges the ministry of one man instead of many members functioning.
- Perpetuates the idea of a professional priesthood instead of the priesthood of all believers.
- Supplants the centrality of Christ’s headship among His people.
- Places unfair demands on one person instead of one-anothering by the entire body.
- Creates a political role that isolates the leader from relationships.
Almost a year ago in my post Senior Pastor, we had a great discussion in the comments about this topic, with insightful comments from Cindy, Robbymac, John Smulo, and others. Definitely worth taking the time to read. What I said at that time still reflects my feelings on this topic:
Contextually, I think that Americans still want some type of public gathering, although that could be changing. In that case, it would be nice to be able to pay someone to take on a full-time role role of administrating and catalyzing such a gathering.
Where I would make a distinction is about the role of the full-time person. In order to not revert to the clergy mentality, I believe that it should be clear that ministry is the shared responsibility of the congregation.
I don’t believe that one person should be responsible for the equipping of the body, but rather that you will find those equipping gifts among the body. The same is true with discipling, teaching, and mentoring. None of these things should be taken on solely by the leader.
Even if this is clear in your heart as the leader, as long as there is a full-time pastor, it will be an uphill battle to prevent passivity among the congregation regarding who is responsible for ministry.
Anyway, as I struggle through my own thoughts on the role of a pastor, I want to be careful to not disrespect in any way the vision that God has put in someone else’s heart. My struggles are with particular issues concerning how we have seen this role function, not with the legitimacy of the calling of the men and women who serve well within this role.
Do you think that challenging the clerical understanding of the pastor role is valid or necessary? If so, do you believe there is a redemptive way to view this role and avoid the clergy mentality in both the leader and the church members?