The Emergent Church --- Clergy-Laity Divide
The Emergent Clergy-Laity Divide
by Dena Brehm
Contact Dena at: Brehmites@aol.com
I love much of what's happening in the emergent church movement... it's refreshing in it's willingness to question all that has been traditionally handed down through the centuries -- many things NEED to be questioned, as we've been trained, like all good sheep, to swallow whole what we're spoon-fed from the pulpit, as well as from traditional commentaries. We've become mere puppets, rather than people who know how to both hear the Spirit, and to reason together with God.
What I love about the emergent movement is the unwillingness to settle for what has "always been"... to not settle for less that what is authentic, for what is genuine, for what is true in the bigger picture. This, I believe, has been a necessary correction in the historic Church. We, as a people, must be willing to have integrity in all we do, including in all that we believe.
However, I believe it has not questioned enough... there are still vestiges of traditionalism that are pervasive in the emergent church realm... vestiges of man's control that keep the emergent expression of the Church from fully being who the Church was meant to be. Most damaging, I propose, is the clergy/laity divide.
I fully believe that the Body was never meant to be divided into clergy and laity... rather, that Jesus intended that He, through His Spirit, meant to be the only Head of His Church, with all the rest of us being equal brothers and sisters under Him. Instead, we've developed a system in which one person is elevated into prominence, while the rest of us are relegated to a passive role. We now have pastors burning out at an alarming rate, because they were never intended to carry all that we've traditionally foisted upon them. And we have the majority of the Body rendered into an audience: bored, frustrated, squelched and wondering "is this all there is to Church?" No wonder millions of Christians are leaving the churches in droves...!
How have we come to this place? The word "pastor" is mentioned once in the entire New Testament -- and that better translated as "shepherd" -- and even there, it's mentioned alongside other gifts of God to the Church: apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers (with many believing teacher to be one and the same with the shepherd). Why the preeminence of the pastor? Why do we call one person in each local church "Pastor So-and-So"? Why do we not refer to Apostle "Such and Such", or "Prophet So and So", or "Evangelist Such and such"? Why do we assume that these are positions at all..? Or offices? They're gifts, given to the Body -- they appear to be, in the context here, functions, rather than titles. Why is the pastor singled out? Why is he "in charge", and elevated into prominence, when Jesus told us that we were not to exercise lordship or authority over one another, but to be like a servant to each other (Matt 20:25-27)?
We are told that when we come together, each one (not each clergy member, but each member of the Body) is to bring something to share -- a song, a hymn, a teaching, a prophecy ... for the building up of the entire Body. And the Spirit is to orchestrate, and ALL are to prophesy -- with the one speaking yielding to the next one, as the Lord leads. Nothing here about one person standing up front and monopolizing with a monologue, but more of everyone openly participating in a dialogue, with each one having a portion to share with the rest. Nothing about one person standing, with profound importance, behind a pulpit (nothing about pulpits at all, actually, or even special church buildings), while the rest merely listen, but about all coming together and focusing on HIM, letting Him be the Head.
I see that the emergent movement has been willing to question many peripheral things, but they've not been willing to question the one thing which most devastatingly hinders and hampers the vast majority of the Church -- the man-made, traditional practice of replacing the Lordship of the Spirit, with an unbiblical mediator, who usurps the authority of the One who said, "I will build My Church." In most modern churches, no one can freely exercise their spiritual gifts, without first seeking out the permission of the pastor. We don't question this, as we've been taught to believe that the pastor IS in charge. But this doesn't come from the Scriptures -- instead it comes from the Roman Catholic priesthood, which in turn comes from the Roman and Greek militarial/governmental/philosophical influences that crept into the early Church - the very manmade, hierarchical, Gentile systems that Jesus warned us to avoid.
(Could this be the doctrine of the Nicolaitians, which Jesus says He "hates" in Revelation 2:15? The word Nicolaitian comes from a combination of nico = "suppression" and laity = "of the people.")
I don't fault the pastors themselves. They've merely inherited this corrupt, unbiblical system along with the rest of us. Tradition is powerful, and resists change. Most pastors are caring, loving people who want to serve both God and His people. But the system itself, like all human institutions, fosters a hunger for power, prestige and position. Like all human institutions, it will corrupt those within it. We, like the Israelites, clamor for a "king", rather than relying on God alone to lead us -- and, like the Israelites, God gives in to our demands, even though it is not His best for us, and even though it has damaged us. We've become dependent upon the human king, remaining in an infantile, immature state, rather than growing into the fully-mature members of the Body that the writers of the Scriptures envision. And, truth be told, while many are frustrated, and are thus leaving the system, in droves, there are others of us who are quite comfortable with the passivity --- preferring to be fed formula, rather than to learn to eat meat. No wonder the Church, as a whole, is having little to no effect on the world around us.
Jesus didn't come to create an institution -- Church is meant to be a family (with children growing up into maturity, and no longer needing their parents to oversee them, but moving on to parent others). His Church isn't meant to be an organization, a thing to join, or a building -- but an organism, a thing to BE, a Body. Church is our identity, not a place to go... it's who we ARE.
And we cannot be that, fully, until we move on from the human limitations that we've both inherited, and continue to promote. The emergent church, for all of its strengths, has failed to acknowledge this huge weakness. And thus, I believe, it will have little to no lasting impact on either the Body, nor the world.
May He have His way with His Church...!
"The unanswered questions aren't nearly as dangerous as the unquestioned answers."