Does the Bible make a distinction between clergy and laity?

The Greek word translated "clergy" is kleros, which refers to the inheritance laid up for all the saints (Colossians 1:12; Acts 26:18). Believers as a whole make up the kleros, inheriting forgiveness of sins and the power of the Holy Spirit. Biblically speaking, the clergy are not a special group of elite leaders. The Greek word laikos, which means "laity," is not found in the New Testament. The Greek word used in the New Testament is laos, which means "people." All believers are the people of God (2 Corinthians 6:16; 1 Peter 2:9-10). All of God’s people are "a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession" (1 Peter 2:9a NIV). Therefore, the distinction between clergy and laity, as most understand it today, is not biblical.

While believers have different callings and gifts (Romans 12:6), all are servants of the Lord (Romans 14:4). There exists in the Bible a distinction between one gift and another, but those distinctions refer to functions within the church, not to position. For example, one may be gifted to preach, to shepherd, to teach, or to lead, but all are brothers and sisters in Christ, one with Christ and with one another (Hebrews 13:1; John 17:20-23; Romans 12:14-15).

Paul considered himself a "brother" and "fellow servant" with Tychicus (Colossians 4:7), Epaphras (Colossians 1:7), Epaphroditus (Philippians 2:25), and Silvanus (1 Peter 5:12). The apostles never talked in terms of "us" and "them" in the context of serving Christ. They considered themselves to be fellow laborers with all believers in the church.

It was not until the third century that "clergy" was employed to designate a limited number of persons who functioned in the church. Gradually, the professional, full-time ministers were seen as a special, separate class instead of as fellow servants of Jesus Christ. Out of this mindset grew the hierarchical system in which the distance between clergy and laity increased, seen in the use of titles such as "Pastor Smith," "Reverend Jones," and "Father Brown." Such a distance is not biblical.

Jesus warned against the use of honorific titles that would draw the distinction between believers. He saw the corruption of the scribes and Pharisees as a result of elevating one group over another. "But you," He said, referring to His followers, "are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. The greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matthew 23:8-11).

Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 12–14, much of Ephesians, and Romans 12 all emphasize the real brotherhood of the saints in Jesus Christ and the humility required of all believers as we exercise our spiritual gifts and callings to benefit the body of Christ.

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