Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Historical Roots of the Laity by Frank Viola

      The last 1800 years of church history is mostly the story of two categories of people: those who “do” ministry and those to whom ministry is “done.”
     First, there are those who are the objects of ministry. They’re called the “laity.” These are the untrained, unqualified, unequipped, second-class Christians. They “laity” are the isolated consumers of “ministry.” They promote it. They pay for it. Sometimes they even aspire to it.
     (Albeit, most who aspire to it still can’t seem to transcend their rank-and-file sub-class. So they’re usually restricted to becoming lay-preachers, lay-pastors, lay-worship leaders, etc.)
     Second, there are those who “do” ministry. They’re called the “clergy.” These are the hired professionals. The spiritual gurus. Those specially endowed mortals that God has granted the exclusive right to minister (so we are told). The clergy are the certified distributors of “ministry.” They process and package it for lay-consumption.
     But here’s the striking truth. The clergy/laity division has no basis in the New Testament! We look in vain to find it there. In fact, it’s impossible to construct a Biblically defensible justification for the clergy profession. The same holds true for the laity class. Scripturally speaking, clergy and laity don’t exist! There’s only the people of God.
     The word laymen (laikoi) first appeared in the Christian vocabulary with Clement of Rome at the end of the first century. In the second and third centuries, the clergy/laity fault line widened to the degree that it infiltrated the Christian mindset. It has been depressingly familiar ever since. Today, the clergy/laity dichotomy is as readily assumed as the belief that the Bible is God-breathed. Few people ever think to question it.
     More pointedly, the clergy is a highly overrated institution. It’s both unnecessary and self-defeating. It keeps the people it claims to serve in servitude. Instead of equipping the saints, the clerical profession debilitates them.
     The clergy also changes face. Sometimes its the Protestant pastorate. Sometimes its the Catholic priesthood. But the message is always the same: “you need us-and-our-class to please God.”
     But such a message is not from God! And it has the net effect of paralyzing the Body of Christ. Yet despite this fact, Christians love being dependent and insistent upon the clergy profession.
     In sum, to be part of the laity is to be a spectator. To be part of the clergy is to be a performer.

The Power of Performance

     In our culture, the power of performance is most readily seen in sporting events.  We observe these (in part) to appreciate the performance of others—whether it be professionals or our own children. We enjoy what they do. We get caught up in their attempts, their successes, and their failures.
     The difference between being a spectator and a participant is profound. Only the participants sweat. Only they actually try. Only they succeed. Only they fail. Spectators may “participate” vicariously. But it’s a rather thin participation.
     Nonetheless, enjoying the performance is a positive thing. Sports are highly contained and choreographed. People who execute that choreography well (Mark McGuire, Edgerrin James, Allen Iverson, Tiger Woods, etc.) are great pleasures to watch.
     Is there not a place for this kind of performance in the church? I believe there is, but...
     Drama is another sphere in which the power of performance is clearly observed. Movies and plays are entirely constructed from performances. Not a shred of it is “real” in any simple sense. And yet drama is an important entry for us into “the real.”
     For instance, do you believe you understand more or less about Roman gladiators after seeing the movie Gladiator? Do you think you could have obtained that understanding from a history book?
     The same applies to plays like Les Miserables. When such plays are acted they can be a door to something very real—even though they’re entirely performance-based.
     Is there not a place for such performances in the church? Performances that

might give us an opportunity to walk through a door to a new spiritual reality or a deeper insight into God? I believe there is, but...
     Musical performances have many things in common with sports and drama. The excellence of the performers are one attraction. But another is the inherent power of what they communicate through their craft. Music can be magical in several ways (either for good or evil).

     An excellent performance of a profound piece of music can be touching and memorable like few other things. Even if a performance is fleeting, it often leaves a deep impact on those who witness it. In fact, for many, a major turning point in their lives was catalyzed by some musical performance.