If we are going to be serious about the Restoration, we need to take a good look at the developing gap between the pulpit and the pew. Each year it is getting wider. It is our firm conviction that if we are really going to be serious about the necessity of biblical patterns we must struggle to regain the New Testament concept of what the body really is.
We are not here discussing the unity of the body. We have in mind the sense of ministry that should be universally spread through the church. While we have eschewed the ideal of a "clergy" and a "laity," we have gone right on outrunning others in accentuating the difference. It is really astonishing that the church accomplishes anything toward the evangelization of the world when the ministry has settled on so few of us.
The aura of a "preacher" is such that his very presence in a group comes nearer shutting up all communication than opening it up. In New Testament times everyone went everywhere preaching the gospel. It was not until after the apostasy that distinction began to be made between saints and teaching responsibilities were settled on a professional few. At precisely this same time the church lost sight of what its mission is all about. It became an organization rather than an organism. There was a time when the battle of Armageddon was between the church and the world. Since the institution of the "clergy" the fight has been between the "clergy" and the "laity."
This situation exists today. A church full of people points at the preacher if they are not pleased with the way things are going. And the preacher takes it out on the church from his elevated vantage point if he is displeased. If we think the dichotomy between elders and preachers is great, just consider for a moment the tension between preachers and congregations.
Instead of thinking of themselves as one body, the church was hardly launched into history until it began establishing a pecking order. We have intensified the process today until in by far the majority of our congregations tensions and unrest set one element against the other. If we were half as interested in returning to biblical norms as we say we are, we could do a lot to remove the tensions that have torn us apart. So long as we tolerate the struggle and tussel between the pulpit and the pew, and between the leaders and the led, we have little right to lay claim to being the one body.
If distinctions could be abolished until all became really one body -- like it was in the pattern -- we might, even yet, restore the New Testament church. In an effort to appeal to the broadest base possible, public speakers often refer to "the people." "The people" represents the whole thing. In the Bible the church is called "the people of God." There's unity in that. There's strength in that. When we segregate and separate "the people" into separate orders invested with status, we have the difference in being a people and in not being a people. Peter tells us that once we were no people but now we are the people of God. It is a part of New Testament Christianity to let it remain that way. We are the body of Christ. All of us together share in responsibility and mission alike.
Paul makes the principle abundantly clear when he says that the church is the body of Christ and that each of us is a member. Then he is careful to say that we do not all have the same function but that each owes the body his contribution. All parts of the body are equal, and where there is apparent difference we equalize it by bestowing upon the more uncomely part more abundant honor, until the different parts do not work in counter-distinction but in harmony -- each supplying what it can to make the body one.
Take a look at the average congregation and evaluate how far we have departed from the New Testament concept. Striving for the best seats at the feast is not in harmony with the idea of one body. There is a lot of difference between the New Testament recognition of the fact that certain ones in the church were endowed with special talents, which were all given by the same spirit for the profit of all, and our established practice of recognizing rank -- elders, deacons, preachers, down to the poor peon in the pew.
A new expression, borrowed as most of them are from denomination sources, is "body life." The very coining of the phrase is a recognition of the fact that the body has largely been forgotten in the rush to establish organizational rank. When members of the body consider themselves as simply that and nothing more we can have the sharing of gifts to mutual profit that was the New Testament norm. We then have real sharing. We have mutual ministering and mutual edification. The body grows; not just a few individuals.
The only way the church will ever make any serious impact on the world is for us to take a hard look at the modern -- not biblical -- way we are drifting into structure rather than fulfilling our mission. This is resulting in our more and more preaching to ourselves rather than to those who need to hear our preaching. Housekeeping operations mark most of our interests rather than the salvation of lost souls.
The creature comfort of organization, and its accompanying release from personal responsibility, may sink us. -- Firm Foundation, May 4, 1978.