Once a year, a small college in Michigan publishes a list of words that should be banished from the English language. These include words that have become incredibly over used, and still others that have been twisted to mean something entirely different from their original meaning.
As a writer, I am acutely aware of the power of words to shape and limit thinking, create attitudes and, thereby, change behavior. In the case of modern Western Christianity, we have a number of words that are so commonly used that the ideas they convey have become part of our culture, are rarely questioned, and, as a result, have changed our behavior in ways that are detrimental to our spiritual growth and the growth of the Kingdom. On top of that, they are non-biblical!
Here’s the second in my series of nominations for words which should be banned from the Christian’s vocabulary: “Clergy.”
I have to admit a bit of ambiguity about this one. In the circles that I run in, almost no one uses the word, nor accepts the concept behind it. However, I continue to drive by church buildings and see signs proclaiming “Pastor xxxx’s church.” I know that there are certain religious institutions where the professionals wear special clothes to set them apart from the masses. And, I continue to see people who refer to themselves as “Reverend.”
All of this supports the notion that, at least in parts of the institutional church system, the concept of ‘clergy’ is still alive and well.
So, I officially nominate it as a word to be banned from Christian vocabulary. I have two reasons: First, it is an unbiblical, man-made construct and, second, it has a devastating impact on our individual spirituality and on the Kingdom in general. Let’s look at both of these issues.
Nowhere in the Bible
It is, of course, nowhere in the Bible. Historically, I suspect that it was created by the Roman Catholic Church to signify the various folks who make up its institutional infrastructure. It was eagerly embraced by the Protestant reformers who wanted to reform the doctrine, but weren’t really interested in reforming the clergy-laity structure which provided them with their living.
You can see the appeal if you are one of the ‘clergy. Special status, economic entitlement, and a sense that you belong to the ‘first class’ Christians, while the rest of the world just doesn’t quite stack up to you. There is something in all of us that kind of enjoys having people around you that you can look down upon.
It is, of course, as anti-Biblical concept as you can get. The word itself nowhere appears in the Bible. It is a purely man-made concept and construct, created for the purpose of justifying a professional’s claim to special status and economic entitlement.
In fact, the Bible clearly promotes the exact opposite.
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
If we are all a royal priesthood, how come only some of us get to call themselves that?
It should not be surprising, then, that the enemy has used the concept to cause incalculable harm to Christianity. Because the word signifies an exclusiveness that clings to its claimants, that exclusiveness forges walls of separation from others of the same mindset. The result? 40,000 different denominations, and hundreds of thousands of church splits.
While I have no empirical studies of this to cite, my personal observation leads me to conclude that probably almost every split and new denomination is the work of a member of ‘clergy’ – some pastor, minister, or self-appointed bishop – who saw a slice of the truth in some way different from others, and decided to gather a group around his unique view of things. I have witnessed a church split about every five years of my Christian life. In every case, it was led by a member of the ‘clergy’ with a conviction that he has a purer knowledge of the word that the next guy. Would we have the incredible degree of division in the world of Christendom if we didn’t have clergy? I suspect not.
But, probably more damage has been done to those who supposedly are the benefactors of the clergy’s work – the laity! It simple to see. Why do something that is uncomfortable when you can pay someone else to do it for you? And there you have the primary damage that is done. The clergy relieve the laity of the need to grow, to encounter Christ personally, to develop the fruits of the spirit, to uncover their spiritual gifts, etc. No need to study the Bible, the pastor will ‘feed’ us on Sunday. No need to visit the sick in the hospital, that’s what we pay him for. No need to become involved with Christ, all we need to do is show up on Sunday.
By removing the need to develop an interactive relationship with Christ and a constantly growing spiritual presence, the concept of ‘clergy’ has done incalculable damage to the cause of Christ.
Let’s remove this unbiblical word from our vocabulary forever!
What other church practices have you accepted without question? Dig a little deeper. Read “Is the Institutional Church Really the Church?”