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In the NT, there is no distinction between clergy and laity

Posted by on Apr 4, 2011 in blog links, discipleship, service | 31 comments

In the NT, there is no distinction between clergy and laity

The title of this post comes from an entry in Dave Black’s un-pseudo-blog-type-thing. (See entry #2 from Monday, April 4, 2011 at 11:54 a.m.)

Here’s the entire entry:

The New Testament gives no suggestion that there is any distinction between clergy and laypeople. All Christians are called upon (and expected) to minister. In the New Testament, moreover, leaders came from within the Body and their leadership was always corporate and shared. There are few aspects of Christianity that demand a more radical reappraisal than its ecclesiology, if we are to be obedient to the call of Christ. If we are prepared to take the Scriptures seriously as the foundational documents of our faith, this will mean a complete rethinking of the wineskins and a return to the guidelines for Christian ministry as set down in the New Testament.

I think the key to this entry (besides the lack of distinction between “clergy” and “laity”) is this: “All Christians are called upon (and expected) to minister.”

What would it take for churches and Christians today to move towards this way of life in Christ?


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-4-2011

    What about “paleo-blog”?

  2. 4-4-2011

    First it would take a fresh revelation of the unsearchable riches that are ours in Christ followed by more of us stirring one another up. Come to think of it, in many ways these are one and the same. That’s probably why Paul began all of his letters by telling the Church who we are in Christ followed by exhortations to live out those truths.

  3. 4-4-2011

    a complete transformation

  4. 4-4-2011

    1. It’s very clear having the revelation in front of them in plain English is not enough
    2. Pointing this out to them only brings bogus rationalizations and proof texts

    I think only a complete breakdown of the American economy so we can no longer afford hired help and maintain or build the crowd oriented gathering sites, will do the job.

    This does not mean we give up speaking the truth in love. It just means we are aware of the severity of the trap Satan has set for God’s people. They like being in the trap. They even call it “dedicated to God” or corban.

  5. 4-4-2011


    Of one thing I’m certain: Without the livening power of the Holy Spirit, nothing we say,write or do, will change anything.

    It is only then that the Lord Jesus Christ will be recognized, as the Head and Senior Pastor!

  6. 4-4-2011

    I appreciate all the comments, and I agree with you. But, I’m also thinking about my brothers and sisters who do believe that the “clergy” are responsible for ministry while the “laity” are ministered to. How do we help these brothers and sisters understand that they are also called by God to be ministers (servants) and move toward living in this manner?


  7. 4-4-2011

    we could start by being ministers and inviting them to join us or look for their own ways of serving

  8. 4-4-2011


    I think example is key. As we serve others, we not only serve them but we show other believers what it truly means to be a “minister.”


  9. 4-5-2011

    Alan – Example is always the key. If we do not live what we teach/preach, we should not expect others to pay much attention.

    But as Aussie John already pointed out, all of our best strategies will be failures without the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

  10. 4-5-2011


    I agree both about the importance of example and the work of the Holy Spirit!


  11. 4-6-2011

    I think we need to consider BOTH the new wine (the saints, including “leaders”) and the new wineskin (the organization, what is a local church, how/who is a member, how is it lead, by whom), or we will “burst” whatever else we try.

  12. 4-6-2011


    Exactly. It’s all connected, and, hopefully, connected back to Jesus.


  13. 9-29-2011

    I believe it will first take ministers and church leaders to admit and understand two things:

    1. The true definition of “lay” ministry Is more than bringing people to church
    2. The need to have “laity” be involved in ministry.

    Once that is realized, church leaders will have to understand and come to grips with the three functions they have been assigned to by the Holy Spirit:

    1. Assist in the development of members discipleship by teaching the lessons and commands of Jesus Christ
    2. Help members understand their spiritual gifts and then mature those gifts.
    3. Provide and look for ways members can utilize their spiritual gifts inside and outside the church building walls.

    My .02 cents.


  14. 9-30-2011

    Hey Brother Alan …. can you write a post on your thoughts about this scripture – 1 Corinthians 5:12-13 (NLT)

    12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.

    13 God will judge those on the outside; but as the Scriptures say, “You must remove the evil person from among you.

    I believe many Christians hide behind “don’t judge me .. the Bibles says don’t judge” so they can continue to do what they want. I don’t see much rebuke or correction in today’s American churches. Why is this scripture in the Bible? How come NO one I speak to about this agrees with what it says?

    What are your thought about this scripture and judging (keeping accountable)each other?

  15. 9-30-2011


    What amazes me when you get down to looking at the terms clergy and laity, they in no way have anything to do with separate categories of people within the church. The English word “clergy” is related to the Greek word “cleros”. It means “a lot or inheritance”. Nowhere in the New Testament is any form of “cleros” used to designate a separate class of “ordained” leaders. Instead, it refers to the “inheritance” (Greek: clerou) laid up for all the saints (Col. 1:12; Acts 26:18). The saints as a collective whole are conceived of in the New Testament as God’s “inheritance”. All believers are God’s “cleros/clergy” – God’s Inheritance.

    This English word is related to the Greek word “laos”, which means “people”. The Greek word “laikos”, which means “laity”, is not found in the New Testament. All in the body of Christ, are the “people” (“laos”) of God. “People of God” is a title of honor bestowed upon all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:16; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). All believers are God’s “laos/laity”- The People of God.

    Some say that it was not until the third century that “clergy” was employed to designate a limited number of persons who functioned in the Christian assemblies. But I would say that this type of division started much earlier and that wherever you see the clergy/laity distinction/heresy in practice you are seeing the deeds of the modern day Nicolaitans in action as they set themselves up as lords over God’s laity/people. All believers are full time ordained ministers=servants and full time ordained missionaries.

    Our Master makes clear who our teacher and leader is: Matthew 23:8-11 But you are not to be called rabbi (teacher), for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone (in the church) on earth father, for you have one Father, Who is in heaven. And you must not be called masters (leaders), for you have one Master (Leader), the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant.

    Jesus in the revelation of CHrist given to John makes an observation of the Ephesian church, noting that they have “hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans.” Who were these Nicolaitans? We shall observe that they were in Pergamum also (2:15). Some have suggested that the Nicolaitans were somehow identified with one of the seven servers mentioned in Acts 6:5 – “Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.” This is very doubtful, and has no evidence to substantiate such. The Nicolaitans can probably better be identified by the etymology of the name. Two Greek words are joined together: nike meaning “victory” (such is the basis of Nike brand shoes), and laos meaning “people” (from which we get the word “laity”). The Nicolaitans are those who “conquer the people.” This is indicative of religion. It is an organized attempt to manipulate and control the people, to make them into unthinking pawns and followers who will do whatever they are told to do by the religious leaders (especially to give up their money and time). Religion is afraid of Christians who live by the freedom of God’s grace, allowing the Spirit of Christ to direct their lives and manifest His character. You cannot control those kind of people. They believe that Jesus Christ is their Priest and their Lord, and they will not bow down to any other, or be controlled or conquered by any other.

    While the Ephesian church at the time of John’s reception of the revelation of Christ had resisted and hated the deeds of the Nicolaitans, Jesus charged the Pergamum church with this: “You also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans” (2:15). Again, the label “Nicolaitans” is etymologically derived from the Greek words nike, meaning “to conquer” or “to be victorious,” and laos, meaning “people.” Nicolaitan religion “conquers the people.” It is but another variation of Balaamite religion that also plagued the church in Pergamum, for the name Balaam is derived from two Hebrew words, bala, meaning “to devour” or “to consume,” and am, meaning “people.” So we see that Religion devours and consumes the people. It uses and abuses them. It “eats them alive,” swallowing up all that they have in order to appease its insatiable appetite for personal enrichment and institutional advancement. Religion does not seek the highest good of men, but it is men seeking their own personal benefit.

    So, I would say that the clergy/laity heresy is here to stay and Christians must always be on the lookout for those who would set themselves us as “lords over God’s people”. Interestingly even some who make it on the list of the hero’s within the various organic church denominations such as Nee and Lee have been notorious Nicolaitans who paid lip service to the priesthood of the believer but nevertheless set themselves up over large groups of people as “God’s specialized prophet and mouthpiece”.

    The Nicolaitan clergy/laity distinction/heresy is prevalent and very damaging to the church so learning the truth about and meaning of the words “clergy” and “laity” is very important. The root words from which we derive the English words “clergy” and “laity” are found in the New Testament, but the common usage of “clergy/laity” is far removed from the New Testament concepts.

  16. 9-30-2011

    So true concernIng this warped concept of the laity and the ministers. Hence the problem we are all experiencing concerning the church. And then so many wonder why it has become a business: we have set it up that way for centuries.

    The church I attend continues with this concieted mindset. MInisters idea of ministry for the “laity” is parking lot duty. And they seriously wonder why people leave the church?

  17. 9-30-2011

    I’m glad this post continues to stir up discussion. I do think this distinction is a major hindrance to the maturity of the church today.


  18. 9-30-2011

    Marc Shepherd said, “MInisters idea of ministry for the “laity” is parking lot duty.”

    That made me LOL… and then made me very sad… that is so true & sad… why don’t pastors/people see this? tradition blinds them? but maybe moreso they have scriptures taught to them that make it seem they should be giving 100% blind support to their pastor/their authority that God gave for them to be ‘under’.

  19. 4-30-2012

    There are a number of things that come to mind. I will mention one:

    Are you aware that the NT Scriptures you hold in your hand were compiled into “The Bible” by priests and bishops centuries ago? Are you willing to accept this fact? So then what is the nature of the “clergy” juxtaposed with that of “laity?” The terminology is utterly Western, and you would be correct in reacting against Roman Catholic ecclesiology in light of the Early Church. But do you realize that the Early Church was liturgical, and that the priests and bishops were raised up from amongst the cleros?

    It has always been understood that all believers have a ministry in one way or another. However, if we are to “take the Scriptures seriously” and “demand a more radical reappraisal” of ecclesiology, I would recommend reappraising the reactionary conclusions drawn by Protestant reformers, who were utterly divorced from the Early Church from the beginning. The absence of “clergy” as such (that is, people set aside for teaching and ministering) as well as the absence of bishops, who through the laying on of hands, receive a blessing to lead going back to the 12 Apostles, would be utterly foreign to the 1st Century Church. Furthermore, the dynamic of a minister speaking to the congregation–whether this individual is considered “clergy” by their Protestant denomination or if they are simply one of many “lay” people selected to stand in front of the congregation and teach/preach–is similar to the ecclesiology of the Early Church in that you still have someone telling others how to interpret The Bible. Perhaps you’d be surprised if I told you that, yes we are supposed to be told how to interpret The Bible. The question is: Is it going to be a clergyman from “The Church” teaching the actual correct belief as it always has been believed, or is it going to be someone telling you their personal opinion after they sit down alone and attempt to discern what the Biblical writers meant by reading a translation of a translation of a translation, with the presupposition that The Bible is the only source of doctrine?

    I know I unloaded a lot, but my inquiry is sincere, and I look forward to your response.

  20. 4-30-2012

    Orthodox Christian,

    It sounds like you are assuming that since I disagree with some of the beliefs, practices, or decisions of some early Christians, then I must necessarily disagree with all of the beliefs, practices, or decisions of those same people. That would be an invalid assumption. The same would be true for believers who considered themselves Reformers, and even brothers and sisters today.


  21. 6-9-2012


    Thank you for your response, sorry I’m late with mine.

    I did not accuse you of “necessarily disagreeing with all of the beliefs” of “some Christians.” I am merely pointing out that we cannot be of one mind and one heart (we cannot be “Church”) unless we agree on doctrines. The fact is that the Scriptures were compiled by a Hierarchical Church, that I look at as “The” Church. If one does not look at the Early Church (which assembled the Scriptures into The Bible) as “The” Church, then The Bible looses its significance and unique status amongst books. This is the reason why I do not understand the veracity of Protestantism (whichever denomination). Correct me if this is not your personal belief, as I will not fall into the trap of heaping all Protestants together under one doctrinal flag.

    One thing that needs clarification: Who are you referring to as “some Christians?”

  22. 6-10-2012

    Orthodox Christian,

    As with all Christians today, I believe those early Christians were right about some things and wrong about others things.

    How did the earliest Christians manage to follow Jesus Christ and disciple others before those Scriptures were compiled by “a Hierarchical Church”?


  23. 6-15-2012

    I suspect many wont believe how effective this is, but give it a try.
    We dont seriously discuss pixies, unicorns, Superman or a flat earth because they dont exist. Those who do believe in them, and there are some, we meekly bow out of the conversation, knowing that we will not be able to convince them otherwise, because rationale isnt why they believe int them.
    Likewise, there is no need to explain or defend or discuss the difference between clergy and laity because neither exist.
    Just because most wont like it, agree or understand doesnt mean we have to accommodate how accepted these fantasy paradigms are. They have infiltrated the cultural and ecclesiastical understanding of the kingdom to such a degree that all of us are in bondage to them, either as protagonists or antagonists.
    Simply stop using them in language where ever its possible.
    When speaking to a pastor, ask him or her if they can accept you not referring to them as leadership, clergy etc. Tell them that in obedience to God, you may not call them ‘father’ and must treat them as simply a brother, who may or may not have a gift of pastoring or teaching, but that is for the whole church to witness to Gods annointing.
    When speaking of a pastor to others, use his name rather than title to refer to him. When challenged, teach others patiently and meekly that you dont confuse his name with his gift, and that his gifting and service does not qualify him for a title.
    Remind others that Jesus also split hairs this way and would not allow himself to be called good or other idolatrous titles, though he did allow them to call him Lord, because he was.
    If a few do this in their circles, it will start a firestorm or conversation and controversy that no advertising or teaching can do.
    And of course it is a great segway into opening up all the other associated topics upon which the whole house of cards sits.
    You will lose followers on twitter and blogging, and maybe even at church, but you will become known as someone that cares for the jot and tittle of Gods word enough to stand on principal.
    The truth is not popular in an age of mass deceit, and it divides properly.
    Our present division is due to disobedience and fear of man.
    Jesus called Herod, their Jewish King who was in tight with the Romans , a fox, publicly and he lumped all the pharisees together and told the people to do what they said but not what they do.

    He knew there were several honest ones and future brethren among them, but it wasnt his responsibility to protect them from being whitewashed.
    It was theirs to stand up and agree with Jesus.
    Still is.
    Apologetics are for those with something to apologize for, and thats not us.

  24. 6-24-2012


    When I’m with other believers, I do exactly what you described. It’s pretty easy when you truly see all believers as your brother and sisters in Christ and you don’t see a distinction based on position, title, etc.


  25. 6-24-2012

    its great to see u back Alan.
    u prob have a lot of emails to respond to.
    yes, I knew you lived this way as youve mentioned your life in past posts. I was challenging your readers, as I challenge those who know us. As we see lives slipping by, our family are perplexed as to why so many hold on to the last possible vestige of traditions and surface relationships, when they are hurting, being lied to or lonely. Fear to love and be loved, and be honest is such a devilishly powerful bondage that keeps many hurting people from the healing of living closely in one anothers lives.
    Its like corporately we have just enough of Jesus to make us miserably aware that we dont have enough of Jesus to save us.
    So sad.

  26. 5-29-2013

    Hi Alan, I was interested in your thoughts and in all the above comments. I myself am a Reader in the Church of England, which I am sure will also be a devilish title to you. I would so much like to believe there is no distinction between Christians, but there is. Once they have learnt to abandon the distinction between clergy and laity (and religious), they spontaneously invent new distinctions. The most dangerous ones are those without a title. In many evangelical churches you are just supposed to know that such and such is important and do as he or she says. So maybe it is clearer to give them a proper training and a title of some sort?

  27. 6-2-2013


    I’m sorry that it took me so long to reply to you. Any distinctions (the old hierarchical title or any newly created distinctions) are contrary to our unity and mutuality among the body of Christ. No, I’m not in favor of titles or positions, and in the same way I would not be in favor of any newly invented distinctions.


  28. 7-30-2013

    The need for and perpetuation of distinction in laity and clergy exists because of our model and expectations of “church”… When all assemble to sit quietly and listen to one or two people disseminate to others, someone has to “be the man”…

    If we take ourselves out of that broken context of the Sunday show/program and move into the reality of the task given to Christ’s plural Body to go and make disciples of every nation, then the class/value distinctions crumble and the biblically identified roles/gifts of the entire Body become more obvious and necessary. If a Body were truly about the task of making disciples then even the simple logistics of the higher value of the “clergy” would become utterly ridiculous and the need for fully equipping become paramount. A “clergyman” can’t be present or put his stamp of approval on all the Body’s activities if a 1,000 member church (church size is another discussion worth having some other time…) were really loving God with all of themselves and loving their neighbors as themselves. The need for more “pastors” would become clear. In fact, the role of “pastor” would become something that every believer would understand applies to them to some degree as they carry out the task as Royal Priest and as God’s Minister of Reconciliation.

    None of this can be done without the Holy Spirit leading each member towards completeness. Jesus said it would be His Spirit Who would lead us in all truth and remind us of everything Jesus taught, not pastors/teachers or even the bible… (that last one might get me in trouble)

    You asked how we could lead others into the change of understanding. We do it the same way we learn to swim, by getting into the water. Today the church is like a swim team who sits around the edge or stands in the shallow talking about, teaching about, perfecting doctrines about and thinking that we are actually swimming. For those whom God has called out of this deception, I am convinced that the best method to help/empower others is to pull them into the deep end with us so they can begin to learn to listen to the Holy Spirit to lead them in ways they’ve never had to be led. This is discipleship, where intellectual learning meats the real world of broken people who need Jesus presence and begin to understand why we’ve been told to go to them. You can’t lay hands on someone to pray for them if you aren’t close enough to touch them. We lead by living it out and then invite others in to taste Him in the midst of serving others where they are.


  29. 7-31-2013


    I love your analogy of the swim team and “getting in the water.” Example is always the best method of teaching.


  30. 8-31-2013

    Agree, well spoken to, as Hutch well defines the lack of the words used to support any offices or the terms in such an industry in the making. Dr.Fairbairn likewise in his 1910 publication refers to the creation of laity- clergy distinction completely as A fake and erroneous invention of men seeking their own gain.

    Interesting, The priesthood of the believers came under attack early on, due the Gnostics effect, out of all those strains came new forms to keep one group above another, thus the end of the ecclesia, “PRIESTHOOD” of the believers was somewhat converted into an early spectator form, which set in, and grew into what w e have today. leaving many asking why ?

    As time passed the growth would reach a point where it was lifeless,300Ad powerless declared by early historians it no longer bore any resemblance to the past glory. By 250 Ad in Carthage the gifts were decreed to only be worked through newly invented hierarchy. Amazing,

    The bad habit headed into our time, somehow things got warmed over.The simplicity of elders in servitude to dominance and business models over Spirit led power, the early body was shot through and through of the spirit presence set into motion. Missing the true call for love and connection into one of wealth-gain and power.

    They knew who they were,says Dr. Hopwood, as spirit led early,aware and in tone though some issues were present. They all worked toward oneness which came under attack from within.

    A few quick items you may all enjoy, may we all be able to wage Spiritual warfare, Ephesian 6 style, the war for the souls of men is intense and God knows his body to be equipped for the fight, that’s looking to him completely in his way. May his might keep you all.. may his love abound in each of you.


  31. 9-12-2013

    I live over here in the Church-belt, once known as the Bible belt. I am just sitting here rejoicing over all of the comments. It is edifying to see how God’s Spirit is leading ya’ll out of the trappings of Church craft. My late wife and I spent many years looking for a connection to folks Who did the Rev.3:20 thing, taking the escape-door out of the Laodicean delusion. We home churched as a fellowship of families while raising our children. We had been made aware of the evils of organized religion. Churchism is so politically refined by these Nicoliatan Cleric control freaks which have a vested interest in all this programming of the so-called Laity. We functioned as equal Believer-Priest’s as seen in the N.T. Mt.23:8-12; 1Peter2:9 and other refs. We made a mutual covenant to remain separate from all the traditions, preachings & teachings of men, following only Christ Jesus as He led us thru His written Word. We did not intend to reform the church, but only to return the N.T. Pattern found in the book of Acts. Mainly 4:31-33. We did not allow for any Priestly assumption, but esteemed the others to be better than ourselves. All of us behaved as equals in the faith which is in Christ Jesus. We were literally flooded with Devine enlightenment, blessing and healings. Our major form of worship was not in in ceremony or liturgy, but in loving and serving eachother with the devine love given us. We intentionally avoided Ritual and Organization of any sort. One of the tutorial books we cherished was by a turn of the century author, E.H.Broadbent titled “The Pilgrim Church”. It was very Scholarly and humble. I end this with a quote from it: “In Alpine valleys of Piedmont there had been for centuries congregations of believers calling themselves Brethren, who came later to be known as Waldenses or Vaudouis, though they did not themselves accept the name. They traced thier origin in those parts back to Apostolic times. Like many of the so-called Cathar, Paulician and other churches, these WERE NOT “REFORMED”, never having degenerated from the NEW TESTAMENT PATTERN as had the Roman, Greek and some others, but having always maintained, in varying degree the Apostolic tradition. From the time of Constantine (315AD.) there had continued to be a succession of those who preached the Gospel and founded churches, uninfluenced by the relations between church and state existing at the time. This accounts for the large bodies of Christians, well established in the Scriptures and free from idolatry and other evils prevailing in the dominant professing church, to be found in the Taurus Mountains and the Alpine valleys. It was said of them that “their whole manner of thought and action was an endeavor to hold fast the character of original Christianity”. The Author also wrote “Movements of a similar character, that is of believers meeting i accordance with the New Testament teaching and example are to be found in many parts of the world. They are free from the historic develpments of RITUAL and ORGANIZATION that have drawn so many away from the PATTERN and their simplicity makes them adaptable to all varieties of men and conditions. They do not publish, nor even compile statistics, nor do they depend on publicity or apppeals for help for carrying on their testimony, so that they are little known in the world, even in the religious world, and this gives their work a quiet effectiveness the value of which is especially seen when they come into circumstances of persecution”. All this is proof that the real Saints did not accept the State sponsored amnesty offered by the Roman Emperor Constantine, but wisely stayed underground as they had been for the past 315 yrs. and escaped through the Piedmont Mountain ranges into the Alpine valleys of Europe. My heart sours. As a family church in the hills, much of our persecution came from organized Churchianity; 501-C-3 State controlled democratically structured organizations who were very jealous of our freedom in Christ Jesus, just like the early believers of Galatia, We were out from under State control. Well, much more on this later. Grace and Peace Ya’ll


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