Chances are that, unless you are a pastor, you don't consider yourself as being qualified to baptize a new believer, lead others in the Lord's Supper, or pray for someone dying of cancer in the hospital. You are not alone. Most people who attend Christian Churches today would not feel it was their place to baptize a new believer or perform any of the functions normally reserved for the clergy.
The sad thing is, your Bible suggests otherwise. In fact, Paul the Apostle says on several occasions that every member of the Body is competent to lead, to instruct, to exhort and to share.
For example, in Romans 15:14 Paul says, "I myself am convinced, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." and in 1 Cor 14:31 he says, "For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged". This last verse specifies a shared prophetic gifting within the Body, but this shared dynamic is not limited to that specific gifting, especially when compared to what Paul has previously communicated in chapter 12 of this same epistle.
One of the most famous verses of scripture in the New Testament which gives us a clear picture of what the original New Testament expression of Church looked like is found in 1 Corinthians 14, verse 26 which says, "What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church."
Here we see a gathering of Believers who all partake of Christ together, sharing their God-given gifts with one another in love for the common good.
The fact is that Jesus gave birth to a Church that was radically different from anything that had ever been known before, or since. It was a Church where every believer was a priest of God and every member was a Temple of His Holy Spirit. The only daily sacrifice was performed by average, everyday people like you and I who were filled by the Spirit of the Living God and empowered to live radical lives of love in demonstration of the Gospel message.
The Doctrine of the Priesthood of the Believer is nearly unheard of in today's Churches, and rarely preached on. Mainly, I would suspect, because for any traditional church to follow through with the implications of this doctrine, many pastors would soon find themselves out of a job. Nevertheless, the New Testament reveals an early Church where everyone participated and shared their spiritual gifts openly with the rest of the Body.
In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 4, Paul says, "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them in all men." Notice here that Paul doesn't say, "...but the same God works all of them in ONE MAN." If he did then we might have a Biblical basis for the all-in-one religious professionals that we currently employ today. Instead, as numerous Biblical Scholars have clearly remarked, the early Church knew nothing of a clergy class of leader we see today.
These Biblical Scholars include FF.Bruce, Gordon Fee, Robert Banks and Howard Snyder who said:
"The clergy-laity dichotomy is a direct carry-over from pre-Reformation Roman Catholicism and a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only 'holy men,' namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity. The New Testament teaches us that the church is a community in which all are gifted and all have ministry."
Another Biblical Scholar, William Bausch, himself a Roman Catholic, freely admits that the New Testament Church knew nothing of the One-Man-Pastorate that we employ in today's modern Christianity:
"Our survey has shown us that no cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we wound up importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry . . . Nevertheless in practice there is no denying that there has historically been a gathering into one person and his office what were formerly the gifts of many . . .[This practice] goes astray, of course, when it translates to mean that only ordination gives competence, authority, and the right of professional governance. It goes further astray when eventually all jurisdictional and administrative powers in the church come to be seen as an extension of the sacramental powers conferred at ordination. In short, there is a movement here away from the more pristine collaborative and mutual ministries of the New Testament." - William Bausch, from his book "Traditions, Tensions, Transitions in Ministry", Twenty-Third Publications, 1982, pp. 54, 30.
Whenever someone suggests that it is unbiblical for the average Christian to teach, preach, baptize, or prophesy on a regular basis they are dead wrong. While the New Testament teaches us that not all Christians are specifically gifted as teachers, prophets, or apostles, (see 1 Cor 12:29) it also teaches that every Christian is a minister, a functioning priest, and is capable of instructing, prophesying, and exhorting in the church.
The truth is that if you are a spirit-filled child of God then the Holy Spirit living within you has already licensed, ordained and empowered you to begin your ministry as a Priest of God in the Name of Jesus Christ, and the function of the Body is to encourage and equip you to walk out that Divine calling every day of your life.
It doesn’t take much digging around to uncover a host of Biblical Scholars who freely admit that our modern divide between Clergy and Laity is not a New Testament concept.
"In the Catholic Church there are two classes, clergy and laity...This structure does not correspond to what Jesus did and taught. Consequently it has not had a good effect in the history of the Church ...Among his disciples Jesus did not want any distinction of class or rank...In contradiction to this instruction of Jesus, a “hierarchy,” a “sacred authority,” was nevertheless formed in the third century - Herbert Haag (a Roman Catholic), Upstairs, Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?, Crossroad, 1997, p.109.
Jesus was quite clear when he pulled his Disciples aside (many of whom would go on to become the Apostles who would shape the New Testament Church) and said to them: "(The Pharisees) do all their deeds to be seen by others...But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers." – Jesus (Matthew 23:5)
What did Jesus mean by this? Did He seriously intend to communicate that He was the only head of His Church? Could He really mean that they were not to set up a hierarchical system of Church government?
Let's ask ourselves the following questions:
Where in the Scriptures can we find anyone other than Christ who is called the head of the Church?
Why didn't Jesus name a human leader to take his place before ascending into Heaven?
The truth is, Jesus never relinquished control over His Disciples or His Church, to any human being. But, you might ask, didn't Jesus assign ANYONE to lead the Church in His absence? Yes, He did:
"But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you...But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you." - JESUS, see John 14:7; 13-15
Here we see that Jesus did leave someone in charge in His absence - The Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus continues to lead His Church today, as His people (the Body) respond to His leadership in the power of the Holy Spirit.
WHAT ABOUT LEADERSHIP?
Some have suggested that this radical picture of "every-believer-a-priest" goes too far and leaves us with a leaderless Church founded on anarchy and chaos. However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Every Church requires leadership and God has not left us without it. The truth is, I believe in a plurality of leadership within the Church because every Believer is a Priest of God. For example, whenever anyone in our house church is sharing he/she is leading us. It may be a seven year old girl, a twelve year old boy, a forty year old man, or anyone in the room. Even so, this is still not the end of leadership. In a larger sense, Christ is still the leader of His Church, not me or anyone else. He might lead through us as we submit to Him and respond to His Holy Spirit, but it is still Christ who is leading us.
So, what is at stake? Do models really matter? Can't God work through us no matter how we gather or who our leader is? Yes, of course. God can, and does, work through any and all means to advance His Kingdom and communicate His Gospel. We are all unworthy vessels and in the end God's perfect will is accomplished no matter where or how we gather.
But, I would simply ask, if you knew that God had something special in mind from the beginning, and if you could see Biblical evidence for a form of Church that did more than give lip service to the concepts of family, and brotherhood, wouldn't you at least want to give it a shot?
If there was a way to enter into the kind of community we read about in the book of Acts, why wouldn't you want to entertain the possibility that it could be within our grasp? Why wouldn't you be willing to surrender anything it took to have a Church like that?
Certainly those of us who have made the decision to worship in our homes and step into the priesthood of the believer are in the minority, for now. But according to Leadership Magazine, Christianity Today, Focus on the Familiy and Rev Magazine, approximately 1,500 pastors a month leave the traditional pastorate in the United States alone, and a recent Gallop poll showed that 1 million adult Christians per year leave the institutional church in the U.S. - and that number is growing.
I believe that God is up to something. I believe that many of the one million people who leave their pews this year are being lead by the Holy Spirit to enter into a form of Church which Jesus inspired from the beginning, and even now is calling some within His Body to experience today.
As author Reggie McNeal, an authority on Church Leadership, has said, "A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving the church to preserve their faith."