Part One - A People Without 'Laity and Clergy': Chapter 2 - Reinventing Laity and Clergy
Emergence of Clergy
Stevens identifies three influences that led to the emergence of clergy in the church:
- Imitation of the secular structures of the Greek-Roman world not unlike the professional-lay distinctions in the modern world.
- The transference of the Old Testament priesthood model to the leadership of the church
- Popular piety which elevated the Lord’s Supper to a mystery which required priestly administration. (39)
Stevens gives a brief recount of how the idea of clergy began to emerge in the thinking of the early church fathers. Heresies and doctrinal confusion in the last third of the first century put pressure on the Christian leaders to find some way to keep order. That led to increasing institutionalism. Old Testament and Greco-Roman structures were their primary frame of reference and models from these cultures began to permeate the Church’s thinking. These developments were combined with an increasingly mystical interpretation of the Lord’s Supper, which required someone of mystical qualifications to preside over the event.
Cyprian, writing around 250 AD, wrote a model for church order which was explicitly based on the civil orders of the rulers of Carthage. Characteristics of Cyrian’s church order were:
- He makes a distinction between the ordo of bishops and the laity.
- He sacralizes the priesthood according to the Old Testament model of the sacrificial priesthood.
- He establishes a monolithic episcopate which is the same for all of Africa.
- He links ministry to sacrifice, again in the image of the temple priesthood.
- He shapes the church as a clearly defined institution of salvation.
- He models the bishops in the image of Roman senators, thus excluding women.
- He consolidates the ruling powers and bishops through numerous episcopal conclaves. (41-42)
The conversion of Constantine and Christianization of the Empire just a few decades later in the fourth century merely solidified the transition that had been happening for the previous two centuries.
Stevens then highlights some of the major developments that transpired in the period from the fourth century to the sixteenth century.
- The Bishop of Rome came to be regarded as the head of the Church on earth.
- The language of worship ceased to be the language of the people.
- The clergy dressed differently and were prepared for ministry in the enculturating seminary.
- Ordination became an absolute act so that congregations were no longer needed for the celebration of eucharist.
- Clergy became celibate and thus distant from the normal experiences of the laity.
- The cup was removed from the laity in the eucharist.
The Reformation came in the sixteenth century but it failed to fully recover the “priesthood of all believers.” Some of the factors involved were:
- “The Reformation was more concerned about soteriology (salvation) than ecclesiology. …”
- “The preacher replaced the priest. The sermon became the central act of Protestant worship (the Protestant ‘Christ-event’).” Much as the priest presided over the ‘Christ-event’ of the eucharist.
- “Inadequate structures of renewal.” Stevens notes that even denominations with radical reformation roots “… have now ‘gravitated’ to the pre-Reformation clergy-lay distinction.”
- “The seminary system was eventually adopted. …thus guaranteeing [pastors’] enculturation in a clerical culture.”
- “Kingdom ministry has been almost totally eclipsed by church ministry. Ministry is viewed as advancing the church rather than the Kingdom. The letters are the primary guide; the gospels have been eclipsed.”
- “Ordination is still retained almost universally for the full-time supported church worker; no adequate recognition of lay ministries in society exists….”
- “An adequate lay spirituality had hardly ever been taught and promoted. …Protestant spirituality has mostly focused either on charismatic and ‘mystical’ experiences or the deeper life of outstanding Christian leaders, rather than exploring the holiness of the ordinary Christian in the totality of his or her life…”
I realize there are lots of lists in the post but through these lists I think we can see the impulses that have taken us away from the vision of the Church in the New Testament.
Is Stevens on track here? Are there aspects that trouble you that are not mentioned?