Part One - A People Without 'Laity and Clergy': Chapter 1 - Doing People Theology
Beyond Clericalized Theology
Stevens’ original title for this book, when it was first published in the UK in 1999, was “The Abolition of the Laity.” I like that title but I suspect it didn’t play too well in some markets. Still, it gives you some idea of the over all issue Stevens is getting at.
Stevens Divides the book into three parts with three chapters each. (Is this guy Trinitarian or what?) The three parts are:
- I. A People Without ‘Laity and Clergy’
- II. Summoned and Equipped by God
- III. For the Life of the World
The first chapter is titled “Doing People Theology,” which is broken into … you guessed it … three sections:
- ‘Of’ the Whole People of God: Beyond Clericalized Theology
- ‘For’ the Whole People of God: Beyond Unapplied Theology
- 'By’ the Whole People of God: Beyond Academic Theology
I think it might be good to devote a post to each section. So let us look at what Stevens has to say in the first part of Chapter 1.
Stevens opens the chapter by writing:
This book makes an outrageous proposal. Should the laity be abolished? Can it be? … Throughout almost all of its history the church has been composed of two categories of people: those who ‘do’ ministry and those to whom it is ‘done.’ Lay people are the object not the subject of ministry. They receive it, pay for it, promote it and perhaps even aspire to it. But they never quite become ministers for reasons that are deep in the church’s soul… (3)
Stevens goes on to say that:
Most efforts at recovering the New Testament vision of every member ministry are half-measures. They focus on the Christian in the church – lay preachers, lay pastoral care-givers and lay worship leaders. What is needed is a comprehensive biblical foundation for the Christian’s life in the world as well as the church, a theology for homemakers, nurses and doctors, plumbers, stockbrokers, politicians and farmers. (4)
From here Stevens takes us into the first section of this chapter, “Beyond Clericalized Theology," where he identifies four persistent misunderstandings that must be addressed.
First, there are the terms “laity” and “clergy.” The Greek word for laity is laikoi and it is found nowhere in the Bible. Clement of Rome first used the term in Christian literature at the end of the First Century. Stevens will elaborate more on this in the next chapter. Laos is the Greek word used to refer to “the people” in the New Testament. It is never used as “the people” in contrast to some other more select group like the “clergy.” Clergy comes from the Greek word kleros, which means the ‘appointed or endowed’ ones. It not used in scripture to talk about the “leaders of the people.” The whole people are the appointed and endowed ones. Kleros always refers to the whole people of God. There is no clergy and laity distinction in the New Testament.
Second, Stevens laments that because of this laity/clergy conceptualization, almost any theology of the so-called laity has tended to be a compensatory thing, with the laity somehow being elevated at the expense of a special group called clergy. Stevens writes:
So a theology of the whole people of God should neither be clerical nor anticlerical. What we should embrace is a-clericalism – one people without distinction except in function, a people that transcends clericalism. (7-8)
I simply quote Stevens for the last two issues:
Third, a theology of the whole people of God must encompass not only the life of God’s people gathered, the ekklesia, but the church dispersed in the world, the diaspora, in marketplace, government, professional offices, schools and homes. …(8)
Finally, a theology of the whole people of God must take the contemporary situation seriously. The work of theology is never finished. It is elliptical in nature with one focus on the timeless word of God and another on the context. So today we must consider the end of Christendom and the prevailing postmodern culture. (8)
Stevens quotes Ellen T. Charry:
Now that Christianity is disestablished and the general populace more familiar with secularism or modern expressions of paganism than with Christianity, theologians should undertake to demonstrate that the apostolic faith has resources for and presents the promise of a version of human selfhood that is both dignified and honorable. In other words, knowing and loving God should again locate people in the world. (8-9)
I find all four of these to be central issues I have wrestled with all my life as I have struggled to get a handle on God and God’s mission for the Church. Do any of these connect with you?