EDITOR'S NOTE: PART 1 of this material was in the September issue of THE EXAMINER. It provided valuable information about "Where Did Church Buildings Come From?". Most religious people have no idea how church buildings got started.
PART 2 (as I have divided the material) deals with some other vital beliefs of the institutional church and the discussion is applicable to all denominations, including all the sects going under the name "Church of Christ". Edwards is an excellent writer and was for some years a Baptist preacher, actually involved in "the ministry". He has experienced what he writes about. I urge you to read this article with an honest and good heart and consider well what Edwards has to tell us. He tells it like it is!
What was church life like from A.D. 100 to A.D. 324? Can we know? Whatever descriptions may have been put to writing have either failed to survive, or have not as yet been found. As it is, we have almost nothing in the way of literature from this Period that can give us even a tiny insight into what church life was all about. We know very little about the experiences of everyday Christians living at that time, nor about their local church involvement.
There is, however, considerable material dating from A.D. 330 to A.D. 440. A study of such findings can provide a mistaken impression of what church life was like. These writings were mostly penned by pagan philosophers turned Christian. They took it upon themselves to write philosophical and theological treatises on just about everything imaginable. They tell us very little that is reliable about church life. But they can petrify your brain! Their pseudo-pagan, neo-Christian philosophical ascent into nothingism is mind-boggling. Unfortunately when you read these volumes (and because almost nothing else has survived), you come away with the impression that this is what all Christians were caught up in at that time. Christianity at that time, it would appear, was primarily an incoherent, philosophical, theological, intellectual study in abstract tedium.
That is not so. If today all Christian writings of this earth burned in an atomic holocaust except for one library full of theological nitpicking then a thousand years from now people would get the distinct impression that today's church life consisted of theologians sitting around philosophizing about the dots over the "i" and the slash on top of the "t".
It looked like we would forever have to live with the distorted perspective that emerged during AD. 100 - 324, that Christianity of the early centuries was made up of erudite theologians, and that we should therefore all follow in their path.
Make no mistake, those men's writings are held in highest esteem, despite the fact that every one of them wrote of the Christian faith from a Socratic - Platonic - Aristotelian mind-set.
All of this leaves us with one compelling question: What was church life like, minus Ambrose, Gregory, Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, and Origen? Find the answer to that question and church history would have to be rewritten. Today's Post-Reformation Protestantism would be left with not so much as a fig leafs protection to justify its practices. Catholicism would find itself in an even less defensible position, if that were possible.
Until now no one has had even a shred of a clue as to what church life was like in the second, third and fourth centuries (AD. 100 to AD. 323). Certainly the writings of those Pagan Philosophers-turned-theologians offered poor soil for digging.
But hold on to your hat. Modern Christian archeology has recently come up with some fascinating, if not downright unbelievable, discoveries. To understand just how incredible these findings are, and how contrary to all past interpretations of this era they are, we need to pitch a tent here and learn a little about the history of Christian archeology itself.
Modern archeology was launched by Roman Catholic scholars in about 1630. They arrived there first, and until recently their interpretation of the available evidence left to us in literature, documents, and objects has been the accepted interpretation. And naturally, their interpretations were filtered through the theological minds of Roman Catholic scholars. These men saw everything they looked at as reinforcing the Roman Catholic view of the church.
Unfortunately (and unbelievably), when Protestant archeology, and even evangelical archeology, emerged, it bought these interpretations without question - and even taught them. The view of church history (A.D. 100 to 280) passed on to us was that of a church elaborate in ritual, with a powerful and well-defined clergy, and a prescribed liturgy. It was a scenario that made the believers of that time look terribly religious, pious, and ascetic. We were taught that a distinct, powerful clergy virtually overlorded everything.
I came face to face with the concepts of the Roman school of archeology just after finishing my first year in the seminary at Ruschlikon, Switzerland. I spent that summer in Rome, and I was pleased to be able to get a personal guided tour of the Catacombs by a priest versed in the history of the Catacombs. We took candles and descended into that fantastic labyrinth. Along the way he pointed out the Christian graffiti left on the walls during the middle and late 200's (the third century) and the early 300's (the fourth century). At one point my companion pointed to a Latin Inscription and said, "This is early second century." I read the inscription: "Peter and Paul, pray for us." Every instinct in me rebelled. I knew the statement scribbled on the ceiling of that underground trench was not part of the mind-set of second century Christians.
I am happy to report that recent re-dating of this graffiti puts that very inscription after the Constantine era.
What we were being told, essentially was this: The second, third and fourth centuries were as full of ritual, clergy, liturgy, sobriety, austerity, pomp, and sacerdotalism as were the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries. That interpretation buttressed Roman Catholicism and caused the Protestants, blushing with embarrassment at such Catholic one-upmanship, to sadly say, "Well, after A.D. 100 there was a great falling away of the faith."
And when protestants get tied up in pomp, ritual and cleric leanings they even point to the practice ascribed to the second and third century church. After all, it appears that it was full of formality and dominated by an active ministry and a silent laity.
Well, it ain't so. In recent years archeologists have been turning up new and, yes, revolutionary findings, which have caused the entire archeological world to go back and re-examine past interpretations of known data. What has emerged is nothing less than stunning.
Some of the recent archeologists who have been instrumental in the complete re-interpretation of second century Christianity are evangelical, others are liberal; but the conclusions are the same. First of all, this new, emerging school is far more honest and scientific than was the Roman school. Secondly, it is working with far more data, including a great deal of new data. Thirdly, these men are not taking their cue from Augustine, Ambrose, etc. As one scholar recently wrote in the Chicago Seminary Theological Review: "Trying to find out what the early church was like by studying the theologians of the second, third and fourth centuries would be the same thing as someone five thousand years from now reading nothing but the writings of Barth, Tillich and Neibuhr, and drawing from their writings a picture of what twentieth century Christianity was like." (There is virtually nothing in these men's writings which would offer even a clue to what the church is like today.)
What has been discovered? Let us begin with Christian architecture - that is, church buildings. The Roman school declared that church buildings have been with us from the second century on. It further taught that the church buildings erected during the Constantinian era were built on the sites of previous church structures. This dogma was universally accepted as fact. But recently Christian archeology has gone back to re-investigate those sites. The findings? Without exception there was no church building or any other kind of Christian meeting place to be found buried beneath any Constantinian-era church buildings. Archeologists found virgin land, or Pagan temples, or marketplaces, but no evidence anywhere of any kind of building used for Christian gatherings. The implications were staggering.
Perhaps the most remarkable archeological discovery ever made of this early Christian era (100 to 400) was the discovery of a Christian meeting place of the Pre-Constantine era. This meeting place was not a church building. It was a home that had been converted into a meeting place for Christians. The site is a town in Syria with the odd name of Duro-Europa.
Exhaustive studies have been made of this building. The upshot is this: here is a home used as a place for Christians to gather, in the mid-200's. One of its peculiarities is this: A wall had been torn out between two bedrooms to make one large room that would hold about seventy-five people sitting on the floor.
What is the point? Until Constantine, there was no such thing as a church building or "Christian" architecture. A church building had never been dreamed of in a dream. That which we know as the Christian faith was a living room movement! The Christian faith was the first and only religion ever to exist that did not use special temples of worship; it is the only "living room" religion in human history.
Now let us go to yet another archeological find and another mind-blower. Imagine, if you will, a group of Christian archeologists plowing their way through thousands of deeds and property records of towns and cities in North Africa. These deeds, surveys, title changes and tax records all dated from AD. 100 to 400, and often stated the uses being made of each building. (Among these records are also religious censuses.) Some of these documents tell the name of the family that lived in each house, the occupation of those employed, and their religion. Some of these records also tell what other activities the building was used for besides living quarters ("baking located here"; "pots made here," etc.). Lo and behold, from time to time are found notations that say, essentially, "The Christian ecclesia sometimes holds meetings in this house"!
Exciting? Well, on some occasions archeologists have been able to locate these very sites and do a dig there. The findings? An ordinary home. No more, no less. All scientific evidence of this era rises up to declare to us that the Christian faith was utterly informal in its expression, and homes were its base!
A formalized Christianity in a ceremonial setting was invented during and immediately after the age of Constantine, growing out of a Pseudo-Christian, neo-pagan mind.
Let us take a look now at early Christian stonework and carvings. The Roman school of archeology dated almost all of these artifacts quite early. A more enlightened and unprejudiced dating has been able to divide these findings into groups: (1) early (2) just prior to Constantine; (3) the Constantinian era; and (4) the post-Constantinian era.
Generally speaking, here is what emerges. In the pre-Constantinian carvings you see depicted happy crowds of people following a joyful, "Charismatic and itinerant" Lord. In the post-Constantinian era you see a sober, somber, grave, unhappy, austere Christ sitting on a throne, garbed in the robes of a Caesar with bolts of lightning breaking around Him. Point: men tend to depict in art what they "see" in their minds. A radical and terrible change in the minds of Christians as to what a Christian should look like and what Christ was like had taken place in less than seventy years.
For me, I will take the happy smiles on the faces of the multitudes following a joyful, itinerant Lord.
One of the most telling proofs of the enormous change that occurred at that point in time is found in those art works depicting the Lord's Supper by showing the Lord feeding the five thousand. The artist saw the Lord's Supper as a time of joy, with the Lord providing for His people. Later you find depicted a dismal Christ looking at a cup, with all those around sober-faced and sad. Which more reflects the first century mind? Which more depicts our present attitude toward the Lord's Supper?
We come now to correspondence - that is, letters written by Christians. There are about 3,500,000 pieces of writing still in existence from this era. About 25,000 pieces have been identified as Christian or "probably Christian." A close study of these written documents has resulted in the following observations.
First, Christians were free of a conventionally religious vocabulary. Not one of those pieces of papyrus makes reference to a clergy. There is no mention of "minister," "pastor," "priest," or any other kind of designated leadership. True, such men existed, but their role was not filling up any space in the minds or lives of the believers who wrote letters!
Now let us see what wonderful "New Testament" practices the Reformation gave us a thousand years after the post-Constantinian era and fourteen hundred years after the first century church.
The Reformation was made possible by one man. Not Luther, not Calvin, not Zwingli, but Frederick the Wise, who just happened to command the largest army in Europe, and who was angry because he had not been made Pope. There was a lot of unrest in northern (non-Latin) Europe over the behavior of the Roman Catholic Church. In Saxony, where Frederick ruled, there was this perfectly delightful, beer-drinking German monk who taught Augustinian theology at the University of Wittenburg. He was really upset with the church. Luther's conduct and writings were reprehensible to the Roman Catholic Church and he should have been put on trial as a heretic and burned alive. But Prince Frederick, ruler of Saxony, took a shine to Dr. Luther, and decided to give protection to this Germanic radical. Essentially what Frederick said was, "Let that man say what he has to say, don't anybody touch him". No one else had an army big enough to challenge this command.
If you do not understand Frederick the Wise's army, you do not understand the Reformation. The key to the Reformation was not some great spiritual revival, but the military might of Frederick the Wise. If it had not been for that army, Martin Luther would have been taken out and unceremoniously burned at the stake quite early in his career.
Well, the final outcome of all this was that the land of Saxony removed Roman Catholicism as its official state religion (the first nation ever to do so). To fill this vacuum Luther was given a free rein to establish a whole new state religion, from the ground up!
How would you like to have the chance of founding a brand new denomination, teaching your views, doing everything your way, and receiving government money to do so?
Luther had before him a nation filled with empty church buildings. He sent his followers out to man these church buildings and to promulgate to the faithful his own teachings. Earlier, many Catholic priests had read Luther's writings and had left the Catholic ministry. Most got married. And many came to Luther's home seeking teaching and direction. (He performed no small number of marriages between ex-priests and ex-nuns, and ordained a host of "Lutheran" ministers.)
During these incredible times Luther produced an entire ecclesiastical structure out of bare bones, created a flood of Lutheran literature, and got it distributed. He single-handedly created a Protestant catechism for children, a Protestant hymnbook, and a Protestant Bible which he translated, published and distributed.
While doing all this he taught and trained ex-priests to become Lutheran ministers and Bible expositors. Wherever possible he was sending these men out to serve as Protestant ministers to those church buildings all over Saxony.
Those Lutheran ministers were looked upon as a Protestant version of a priest. Up until that time the "pastoral role," the pastoral practice of the Protestant world, did not exist. The modern-day pastoral concept began in Wittenburg, Germany. So did a lot of our other "New Testament" practices. Here is the story of Wittenburg.
Luther had the entire altar area ripped out of the front of the church. High up on one of the pillars of the church was a little rostrum or pulpit which the Catholic priest had climbed up to by means of a circular staircase to read dutifully the weekly announcements to the faithful flock below. Luther had one of those pulpits placed in the front and center of the building, where the altar had been. That was new. Brand new. And so, dear reader, was born the Protestant pulpit.
Every Sunday at dawn Luther preached from the pulpit to the gathering, the meeting taking place at exactly the same time Catholic mass had been scheduled before the Catholics had been thrown out. However, Luther did not enjoy getting up that early on Sunday. What he liked to do was go down to the tavern - or sit in his kitchen - and talk and drink beer on Saturday night. So he moved the Protestant worship service to the saner hour of 9 A.M. But the older he got, the longer he talked on Saturday night, and the more beer he drank. He moved "church service" to 10 A.M. But as he talked still longer and drank still more beer, he found even 10 A.M. to be uncomfortably early. The last possible hour he could set for the morning church service and still call it "morning" was 11 A.M. That is how it came about that 500,000,000 Protestants today hold church services every Sunday at 11 A.M.
Luther also invented the Protestant ritual of worship there at Wittenburg. With only the slightest variations, we all follow that same ritual today. Regardless of our denomination, across the face of the entire planet. Here it is, sacred, sacrosanct, handed down to us on gold plates by angels - at 11 A.M., mind you:
Someone wisely said, "It was the Protestant Reformation that gave us the formula: 'Information Equals Spirituality.'" I would add, we also seem to unwittingly believe that information equals piety; information equals salvation; information equals being a Christian.
In other words, the Protestant Reformation was primarily an intellectual thing. It was also a time of accumulating traditions which evolved straight out of the circumstances of the hour. One of these was the pastoral role.
Imagine a nation full of empty church buildings. Imagine Wittenburg looking something like a refugee camp. Ex-priests and ex-nuns were pouring in literally by the ox cartload. From all over Europe men who had read Luther's writing were moving to Wittenburg to sit at his feet. Luther, in turn, was training and speaking and writing by the volumes, and sending these men out to fill those empty church buildings with Protestant ministers just as fast as he could.
Those converted ex-priests from Wittenburg were (1) followers of Luther's teachings, (2) getting married to ex-nuns, (3) taking off their priestly robes, (4) setting up new Pulpits where the Eucharist once sat, and, (5) preaching every Sunday morning at 11 A.M.
In the past, communities were accustomed to having priests in their city who were carrying out the seven Pastoral duties of a Priest. They were used to seeing their priest: (1) marry the young, (2) bury the dead, (3) hear confession, (4) bless community events, (5) baptize their babies, (6) visit the sick, and (7) care for and collect money for the poor and for the church. Remember these were the Pastoral duties of Catholic priests that had come into being over a thousand year period of tradition and evolution. (In other words, these customs have nothing to do with the Scripture.)
Now Luther instructed these men to continue the pastoral duties of a priest, with slight alterations. This may seem strange to us, but every generation is subject to its matrix. Luther simply could not think of a more scriptural context in this particular area.
Luther changed one particular Catholic duty, that of "hearing confessions." This gave way to spiritual counsel and preaching the Bible.
So it was that Luther sent his Protestant ministers out into Saxony to perform the seven (slightly altered) pastoral duties a la the Catholic Priesthood, minus the priestly garb. It was not long before these men were no longer being called "priest" or "Father." Instead they came to be called "Pastor" because they were now the ones who were carrying out the pastoral duties.
If you are not shocked, you ought to be. From that day forward, men have written literally millions of books on every theological issue conceivable to the mind of man, yet no one had closely questioned the biblical basis for the man called "Pastor." He is just there. Like the poor, he has been with us from the beginning of the Reformation and he will be there until the crack of doom! I repeat, he was not born as a result of profound scriptural, theological study. No one even looked to see if he happened to be in the New Testament. He just grew up and grew out of the ongoing events surrounding Wittenburg during the early and mid-1500. Before that he never existed, was never dreamed of. He materialized around 1525-1540 and has been with us ever since, undebated, unquestioned, and wholly unscriptural. In all church history there has not been so much as one day of debate or controversy over his scriptural right to exist. We practice "him" without question. He lives and exists outside of controversy. Yet, there is not one verse of Scripture in the New Testament that describes such a creature, and only one verse that even uses the term. Nonetheless he is the center of the practice of Protestant Christianity.
I suggest that the Pastor is a tradition born during the Reformation, and that in the total story of the first century church (AD. 30 to AD. 100) there is nothing like him to be found anywhere. You may figure out a way to justify his existence with one fragment of one verse of Scripture. But he does not exist in the overview or the context of the first century saga.
One of the most fascinating things about the practice of the pastor is that ministers seem to know - or sense - that he is non-scriptural. As a pastor, later as an evangelist, and until this very hour, I have brought up the subject of "the place of the pastor in Scripture", to scores of fellow ministers. "Where is the pastoral concept in Scripture? I cannot find it." The most reaction I have ever received was either an agreement or a resigned shrug.
Why do we not seem to care enough to even consider the seriousness of this matter? Protestantism is built on, rests on, and exists on, the concept and practice of the pastor. Yet he exists nowhere in New Testament Scripture. But ironically, he is the fellow up there in the pulpit calling us all to return to faithfulness to the Scripture.
Oh Consistency, where are thy children? Why do those facts not bother us just a wee, tiny bit? There seems to be only one possible answer.
Modern Protestantism, as it is practiced today, simply cannot exist without the concept and practice of the modern pastor. Remove him and Protestantism will collapse.
In the face of such a healthy possibility, I propose that we chuck the practice of the pastor, on the historical basis that it is not a scriptural concept. Let us keep our Protestant doctrines, but chuck the lion's share of our traditions and practices, including the pastor!
Ah, but is not the idea of a pastor a Protestant doctrine? If it is, I cannot find it. It seems to me it is only a practice, and has never been a doctrine.
I invite you, dear reader, to do something I did. I am a graduate of the largest Protestant seminary in the world, which has on its campus one of the largest theological libraries ever assembled in the history of Christendom. One day I searched that library for even one book or one chapter, and finally in desperation even one paragraph, discussing the pastoral concept from a scriptural or theological view. I have never found that book, or chapter, or page, nor paragraph on the subject. The pastor is just there. As far as I can discover no one has ever tried to prove or disprove, question or even discuss the pastoral concept and practice, either theologically or scripturally.
The pastor concept is practiced, yes ... everywhere on this planet! Discussed, taught, defended, questioned? Never. He just is! Like stained-glass windows, like pews, like steeples, like the church parking lot, he is a practice and a tradition.
Kind of mind-boggling, isn't it?
Did it ever occur to anyone that maybe, just maybe, a few of those practices are getting in the way of an experience of church life?
Now picture yourself as a country kid called to preach, and all you want to do is preach. You know God has called you. You may not be clear what He has called you to, and your vocabulary and your concepts may be all wrong, and you may know you might end up being a pastor - but you never dream of getting into anything like a pastorate. Nevertheless, one day you do. You walk into a wonder world that has been sitting there for several hundred years, waiting to gobble you alive. You begin to play your role, and it is just that - a role.
The first thing you discover is that people do not relate to you the way they do others; nor can you talk to them the way they talk to one another. You are not "normal people." This highlights how lacking in church experience our experience is. The people you are dealing with obviously have never known church life, or true equity of believers.
One thing I noticed right away was that we all talked about the priesthood of believers, yet all baptizing was done by the pastor, and the Lord's Supper was conducted by him. There is nothing in the New Testament to support such sacerdotalism.
In all Christian gatherings the pastor plays the role of the big tongue, while you play the role of the big ear. That is just about all that happens. He talks: you listen. Everyone goes home. We are two distinctive classes of Christians: you are an ear, I am a tongue. There is absolutely no scriptural foundation for this, either.
In my homiletics class we had to hand in a sermon each week as an assignment. I learned not only to prepare a sermon but to play the whole sermon game. (Unless I played the game I did not receive a good grade.)
It was a seminary student joke that "to have a good sermon, you have to have an introduction, a conclusion, three points, a death bed story, and a poem." There is too much truth in that little statement. But my question is, by what stretch of the imagination do we find men preparing sermons in the early church, then uncorking them every Sunday like Swiss clockwork at 11:29 A.M.? Some denominations or non-denominational movements are strong on exegesis. Most preach largely topical preaching. It is not exegetical. But whether it is exegetical, topical, expository, or whatever, it comes out of the Greek tradition of rhetoric.
Do you have any idea how hard it is trying to think up a sermon to deliver to a group of people (whom you hardly know even though you have lived with them for years)? You do not know where they all are as a believing community.
One disturbing element of preaching a sermon is to have to finish at five minutes before noon. Another is simply trying to preach on Sunday morning.
You think you had a hard time getting your kids to Sunday school and church? Well, this is what preachers' kids are saying just before church: "I don't want to go. It's boring."
"Your daddy's a preacher, you have to go."
"I don't care what daddy is, I don't want to go. Don't make me."
The kid has a fight and could come in, sit down and be still. Preachers have that fight, have to come in there and preach about Jesus. That is no fun at all. And while I preach, you sleep.
With all my heart I thank God I do not have to subject you or me to such a scene any longer.
"Uncle Ned died this morning. We're going to have his funeral tomorrow afternoon." "I'm sorry, I don't want to preach at his funeral. Someone in your family can do it. One of your neighbors can do it. In fact, I don't even want to go to the funeral. I never did know Ned very well. For the life of me, I couldn't find a kind word to say about him. Besides, I don't particularly like funerals; they are a pagan holdover of Western civilization."
What would happen to that minister if he refused to preach Uncle Ned's funeral? He's O-U-T, out. He is expected to bury the dead. He has no choice. I want you to find one verse in the New Testament that says anyone is supposed to preach at a funeral, or even have one. Yet it is an ordained duty of every minister. An oratory over a corpse. The very thought is revolting. I am not called to that. God does not ask that of me. It is a tradition, and I do not plan to take any part in it. If we do need to bury someone, let the brothers in the church do it, just as they do the weddings.
Part of the ministerial role is to perform marriages. Just about all the parents of those who have been married in church life think their grandchildren are illegitimate, because no ceremony was performed in front of them by a minister in a wedding. All it takes to "have a wedding" in any state in the country is to get the right papers from the courthouse and have three witnesses sign it who are over twenty-one years of age. That is all. The rest is ritual. A minister does not sanctify your marriage. Your marriage is sanctified by three signatures on a sheet of paper provided by the government of this state, dropped into a mailbox, and registered in the state files. That is what makes your marriage legitimate.
The first marriage I ever saw in church life happened at six o'clock in the morning at a prayer meeting. After the meeting two saints stood up and said, "We're getting married this morning. Will three people please sign this paper?" Three brothers signed it, everybody gathered around them, loved them, hugged them, thanked the Lord for them, and off they went. They were married. That was it. And, parents' opinions to the contrary, their kids are legitimate.
May I offer one more ritual that needs a revolution? "Ladies and gentlemen this evening we are gathered together to see the hockey team from Montreal get out here and murder the hockey team from Seattle. They're going to beat one another senseless with clubs and sticks, and knock one another over and hit each other, and there are going to be riots in the stands. But just before that happens we're going to have the pastor of the First Baptist Church come and lead us in prayer."
Have you ever tried to think up a prayer to pray just before two groups of men try to kill one another over a hockey puck? That is one of the wildest things you will ever attempt to do. You have to invent a prayer like Aunt Nina's gown; it has to cover everything and touch nothing.
Let's get rid of the practices of blessing community events. At the Kiwanis Club, there are dirty jokes going on, drinking and smoking, and suddenly you hear someone announce, "Will Reverend Edwards please lead us in prayer?"
"The Democratic Party this evening is gathered to hear So-and-so speak, and now will Reverend Edwards lead us in prayer?" Maybe Reverend Edwards is a Republican, but he still has to pray.
None of this has anything to do with the Christian faith. In fact the Christian faith stood against this kind of thing in the first few centuries. Brothers and sisters, you must stop wishing this kind of a life on a man who does not really want to live that way. Men called of God do not want to live this way, and should not live this way.
How would you like to have to wear a suit at all times except in the shower or in bed? See your wife and kids subjected to constant town-wide scrutiny? Never be allowed to be angry, depressed, short-tempered? Be required to talk piously all day long and do and say some of the most stupid, idiotic things imaginable, all day long?
For instance? The telephone rang one day, and the voice on the phone said to me, "Pastor, my daughter wants to talk to Santa Claus. Be Santa Claus for my daughter. Here she is." A little bitty voice asked, "Is this Santa?" And for five minutes I played Santa Claus on the telephone. I had to. My salary of $55 a week and a parsonage were at stake.
As a minister I was constantly asked to throw holy water on things. (Of course Baptists do not have holy water, but that is essentially what we were doing.) There is not an honest man alive today in the ministry that has not wished to unload and drop this whole masquerade and be an ordinary human being.
What is demanded of a pastor's wife is unbelievable. I know of no other occupation on earth that treats an employee's wife the way a clergyman's wife is treated. You hire one person, and you get the other one free. You work that person to death in the community. She, too, plays a role; let her break that role, and you will both be out of that church faster that you can blink. Dress a certain way, talk a certain way, be a certain way. Smile real big, or you are not a good Christian. Never criticize, or have need, and never be hurt when criticized. Always be pleasant, nice, kind, and raise perfect kids.
This is not just my description of a pastor's wife. It is virtually any pastor's wife's own job description of herself on a day when she is being honest to herself.
A pastor walks into a house, visits a minute and starts to leave. "Pastor, before you go, lead us in a word of prayer." You better never refuse. You may not like that fellow. He may be the biggest four-flushing hypocrite north of the South Pole. His kids may be juvenile delinquents and he has caused more trouble in the church than anyone in the last forty years ... but you are about to "lead in a word of prayer" or lose your job.
Friend, you do not belong to God, nor does your wife. You are owned by the whims of people. You doubt? Then go climb up in that pulpit next Sunday and say in shirt-sleeve English what you really think. Do not visit the sick and pat little old ladies on the hand, and do not "lead in a word of prayer." Do not smile when you do not want to, nor talk pious words when you do not feel like it, or suit up when you would prefer to go in jeans, or say yes to another job for your wife when you do not want to. And remind yourself to look up the root meaning of the word "hypocrite."
If church life is ever to be known on this earth, the whole mentality that spawned the pastoral role must go.
Take a look at the laymanís concept of a pastor. It borders on superstition. God is represented in that man. To wit: if your pastor likes you, that means God likes you. This is a subconscious conclusion of many a layman, and at least one or two ministers in the last five hundred years have used that superstition to manipulate and control.
Everyone feels good about their home and kids when the pastor comes to visit and prays God's blessings over the home. Well, I hate to tell you, but other than the fact that he is called of God, he is a human, as ordinary, as anyone else.
I am sure you have heard of the symbiotic relationship of a certain bird and the water buffalo. The buffalo does not chase the bird away because he eats the flies that bother the buffalo, and the bird, riding on the buffalo's back, finds a safe place to eat.
Well, a symbiotic relationship often grows up between the clergy and the laity, and especially between the clergy and the rich laity! The telephone rings. "Hi, Pastor, this is Benedict. Pastor, my wife and I just want you to know that we love you so much."
"Thanks so much. You're a fine person to say so, Benedict. God love you, brother, for so thoughtful a nature."
"Pastor, we're going on vacation to Switzerland for the next month, and we have a country retreat house out on the lake. Lola and I just wanted you to know that it's yours every week while we're gone. You can take your family out there, and rest and pray and enjoy it."
"Why, Benedict, that's the most gracious and Christian thing a person can do. God bless you, dear brother. My wife and I think so highly of you."
They both hang up. The religious fellow named Benedict feels all warm inside, knowing God must love him because the pastor does. The pastor hangs up knowing he has conned another layman out of something with the scepter of religious blessing. It feels so good, and the rich need it more than the poor do, because they have a guilt complex about being rich.
This kind of relationship sometimes grows up between pastor and layman to the point it almost becomes a science. You the pastor bless me, the layman; that means God loves me. I, the layman, bless you (and pay for God's favor) by giving you gifts, special attention, special meals - and sometimes a weekend retreat house. You become a hypocrite, treating me as someone special, and at the same time using your sacred call from God for material gain ... and you lose a hunk of your life, for you are at my beck and call, and the beck and call of all the rich who have given you gifts.
Symbiotic relationships. These relationships will continue as long as we have clergy and laity. In fact, this may be the main reason we have a hired servant of God and an endowing laity.
In the meantime, reality lives in some other part of the world and, methinks, hell chuckles with glee.
Dear reader, you cannot imagine how few people there are on this earth willing to give a truly anonymous gift to a Christian worker. I know ministers who seem to live under a shower of gifts. Speaking as one who refuses anything but the most anonymous of gifts ... it does not shower all that frequently over here in this rather unusual place. Laymen, especially the wealthy, have a hard time giving a personal gift to a Christian worker without getting stroked a couple of times.
We are far afield from the age of that tent maker who refused to spend even a night in another Christian's home unless he paid for his food and lodging. Hurray for a Christian worker that is bullheaded about a clear conscience. Hurray for Paul of Tarsus. May his tribe one day live again!
If you give, give anonymously. And if you are rich, stop acting rich. And stop this symbiotic relationship with anyone. Money has power. Rich men and women use this power in the church of the living God, and that is spiritual criminality, a corruption of the Christian faith.
When I was seventeen years old I preached my first message, and nearly blew everyone in the room away. It has been that way to a large extent ever since. Do not talk to me about getting power or having power. We ought to be talking about controlling power, surrendering power, and how to live in such a way that the power which is given to us of God does not destroy us. In most cases the vessel cannot manage the power given by God, and the vessel is destroyed. Personally I fear power. I wish there were a larger number of messages delivered on its destructive force in the lives of those who seek it (and receive it) than on the need to have it.
If God has given you power, remember that it has ultimately wreaked as much destruction in men's lives as it has aided the kingdom of God.
This I know. I am called of God, but of myself I cannot bless you. Being ordained to preach did not give me a bottle of holy water. Yet this imaginary game is played out on both the side of the layman and the clergy. It has to go. We have to live on the same level.
This thing of not accepting pay is so that I can be part of an ordinary relationship. Why do I personally receive no pay in the fellowship where I labor? To be ordinary, and normal, and to be treated so.
We ought to be what we are: ordinary people (1Cor. 1:26-29) partaking of all of lifeís common experiences, a caste-less community caring for one another in light of Christ's statement, "you are all brethren."
Everything I have shared here about the Protestant ministry as it really is today, and especially how clergy and laity relate, all this grew out of the practices that found their way into the Catholic Church from about A.D. 324 to 400. The technical term for it is sacerdotalism, the specialness of the priest. Please remember this always: the first century Christian church was a lay movement from top to bottom.
Let us say you are a preacher. You begin to see something of church life, at least in your spirit. You see something of the life of the church, the body of Christ, the bride of Christ, the eternal purpose of God. You start thinking: How am I going to support my family?
One preacher said it beautifully: "I majored in Bible in college, I went to the seminary and I majored in the only thing they teach there, the professional ministry. When 1 graduated, I realized that I could speak Latin, Greek and Hebrew and the only thing on earth I was qualified for was to be Pope, and someone else had that job." There is nothing less skilled on this planet than a preacher.
1 admonish you, if you hope to be part of a revolution, lay down the professional ministry, let your call rest for a few years. Go get a skill. Learn how to earn an honest living, and discover the depths of Jesus Christ in the midst of the body of Christ.
Gene Edwards, formerly a Baptist preacher, wrote this fine article in 1989.