Part One - A People Without 'Laity and Clergy': Chapter 2 - Reinventing Laity and Clergy
Stevens partions Chapter 2 into three sections:
- A People Without 'Laity'
- A People Without 'Clergy'
- The Emergence of the Clergy
Stevens disconstructs these terms and explores how the laity/clergy framework emerged. I will take a brief look at the laity/clergy distinction in this post.
'Laity' and 'Clergy'
Who are the “lay” people? Stevens shows that we most typically define “lay” people by what they are not:
- Function - Does not administer the word or the sacraments.
- Status - Does not have a “Rev.” title.
- Education - Not theologically trained.
- Remuneration - Not full-time or paid
- Lifestyle – Not religious but occupied with secular life.
Stephens recounts the results of a survey question asked of United Methodists. It said:
- Members of the people of God called to a total ministry of witness and service in the world;
- Those who are ministered to by the clergy who are the true church;
- People in part-time Christian service;
- Non-ordained Christians whose function is to help the clergy do the work of the church.
The top response was number four with 59.9%. In other words, laypersons are assistants to the pastor instead of the other way around! As Stevens says throughout this book, the widely shared perception is that the laity are the people who receive ministry and the clergy are the ones who give it.
The word “laity” comes from the Greek word laikos (not laos as is so frequently claimed.) Laikos means “belonging to the common people.” It is absent from the New Testament. The first mention of the word in Chrisitan literature comes at the end of the first century when Clement of Rome was writing to the Corinthians about worship and was making an analogy to circumstances in the Old Testament.
A Greek synonym for the laikos was idiotes. It is the root of the English word “idiot” and means someone who is not an expert or a specialist. It is used once in Acts 4:13 when the Sanhedrin was amazed at the teaching of these (Paul and John) “unschooled and ordinary men.” It is used again in 1 Corinthians 14:2 to refer to the uninitiated who come into a Christian meeting.
Stevens notes that after Clement of Rome’s one time use of the laikos, it did not begin to appear again until Clement of Alexandria and Tertuillian used it. The word is absent from the writings of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus writing in the second century. It appears that the idea of laity began to emerge in the second century and the concept widely took root by the end of the third century. (For more on the development of laikos see the beginning of this article by Hans Ruedi-Weber.)
Stevens' bottom line is that neither laikos or idiotes were used to describe “the people of God.” The Greek word in the Bible is laos, which meant “the crowd” or the “the people as a nation.” There are only the people of God (laos tou theou) among whom there are leaders or a subset of the “the people,” not a group that exists in contrast to the people.
The emergence of “the laity,” was joined by the emergence of its mirror image “the clergy.” Stevens identifies four dimensions he believes are common to our contemporary understanding of “clergy”:
- The Vicarious Function – “Service is rendered representatively not only on be behalf of but instead of.”
- The Ontological Function – Person becomes a priest by virtue of ordination not character, and is, therefore, clergy for life without resignation.
- The Sacramental Function – The idea of priest or sacerdos, borrowed heavily from the Old Testament.
- The Professional Status – Well trained professional who can “do it” better than an amateur or volunteer.
The word "clergy" is derived from the Greek kleros, meaning a “lot,” “share,” or “portion assigned to someone.” It is always used in the New Testament to refer to the whole people of God but by the third century it comes to stand for people in ecclesiastical office, in contrast to the common Christian, the laity.
Stephens explains that while the concept of Israel as the people of God (laos tou theou) carries over into the New Testament of the Church as the people of God, the nature of leadership undergoes a radical change in the New Testament. We will explore that change tomorrow. But for now it might be interesting to reflect on what it would mean if there were no laity and clergy, or more accurately, if all disciples were clergy.
Let me anticipate a concern that is always raised when I get to this issue. We have not said that the Church is a radical democracy and that there should be no leaders. Many quickly leap to the conclusion that the above is advocacy of anarchy. (i.e., No clergy = no leaders) Leadership will be addressed in the next post but if this is your concern, I invite you to examine more closely what has been said above and examine why you think this suggests no leadership.