Are We Developing A Paid Clergy Class?

One truth the restoration preachers stressed was the priesthood of all believers. They decried the distinction the Roman Catholic church made between the clergy and the laity. They refused to accept the title of "Reverend" which was used by both Catholics and Protestants to honor the priests or ordained preachers. When David Lipscomb began the Nashville Bible School he refused to limit it to those who planned to preach. He encouraged them, but he wanted the Bible taught to other men and women, too.

Those of us preaching today can recall when pioneers like L.S. White, Jesse P. Sewell, and F.L. Young were the first full-time, local preachers in Texas following the division with the Disciples. I can recall how gospel preachers such as H. Leo Boles, S.P. Pittman, and F.D. Srygley preached for a different church each first or fourth Lord's day. S.H. Hall and Hall Calhoun were two of the few full-time local preachers in Nashville in their time. Hundreds of men supported themselves in other work while they preached the gospel. Those who gave full-time usually spread their efforts to a number of churches as they preached in "protracted'' meetings and by special appointment.

Today I hear from elders who are frantic to "employ" a full-time preacher before the attendance and contribution drop. Sometimes they "bargain" with high offers to attract a widely-known preacher to leave his present work to come work with them. This attitude of "bargaining" on the part of the elders or on the part of the evangelist is not in harmony with the New Testament teaching regarding the work of an evangelist. Many errors in judgment are made because of haste when churches assume they cannot survive, even for a short time, without a paid, full-time preacher. This concept is not new in the religious world, but it is relatively new among churches of Christ. I fear it reveals a deep-seated change in our concept of the priesthood of all believers.

In I Peter and in Revelation we find the truth that Christ "hath made us kings and priests unto God." Christians are called a "holy priesthood" whose function is "to offer up spiritual sacrifices." The "word of reconciliation" Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 5:19 was not committed to a few "clergy" but to all Christians. The words kleros, or clergy, and laos or laity are found in the New Testament, but William Robinson, in his book "Completing the Reformation," points out that they apply to the same people. J.B. Lightfoot, in "The Christian Ministry," says: "The only priests under the gospel, designed as such in the New Testament, are the saints, the members of the Christian brotherhood."

Within a few generations most of the early churches departed from this practice and developed an organized and powerful priesthood. All around us in the religious world the concept and practice of a clergy which controls the church is the professional class whose job is to promote institutionalized religion. The religious world, with a few exceptions, expects any religious group to be promoted by a clergy class and the mass of members does not feel responsible to do more than support the professionals. Of course, the New Testament teaches that a laborer is worthy of his hire and those who give full-time to preaching the gospel should be supported. But are we drifting toward the prevalent practice of leaving the sharing of the gospel to a few who stand in the pulpit? Are we half-consciously accepting the general attitude of denominations around us that the promotion of Christianity is largely a job for a few preachers? Do our young people, for example, think that a preacher is the only one who is authorized to baptize or to speak at a funeral or at a wedding? Do they really know the difference between the Kleros, or clergy, and laos, or laity, as found in the New Testament concept of the priesthood of all believers? Can they conceive of each Christian telling his fellow workers and neighbors about Christ by word and by deed? Do they feel the divine imperative of the great commission or do they think this is restricted to the few men who choose to give full time to preaching?

In our secular world the term "layman" means one who is not a professional. The professional physician or lawyer is responsible for the success of his profession. We turn to him as an expert and pay for his services. But the New Testament does not give us the picture of a church in which a few highly trained people take care of our obligations to God and the rest of us merely pay for their services. Somehow we must reverse this trend. The word can never be preached to the 150,000,000 people who learn to read and write each year if the job is left to a few thousand preachers - no matter how effective they are. As Findlay Edge puts it in his provocative book, A Quest for Vitality in Religion, "Every Christian has a ministry which, under God, he must fulfill. He cannot pay someone else to do it either by buying indulgences or by tithing. Therefore, every person who commits himself to Christ should understand that in entering the Christian fellowship he thereby is covenanting with God to accept and fulfill this ministry."

All of us are to be full-time ministers. -M. Norvel Young, Gospel Light, October, 1966.

Editor's Note: In answer to Brother Young's question heading his article, the answer is clear: yes, we have developed "A Paid Clergy Class," and it is now well entrenched in our churches. Twenty years have passed since his warning, but the "development" went right on. Who will deny the obvious - the paid clergy class is in place. Brother Young said it was a "trend" then that somehow should be reversed. Apparently no one cared. Do you care?

Or, do we have what we want and intend to keep? It is a personal decision for each and every Christian. You have the choice to accept and go along or to reject and try to correct the unscriptural practice. At least you can correct the matter for yourself. Do you have the faith and courage to do so? - CAH.