Wednesday, April 14, 2010


In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells his disciples that he is the good shepherd and that his sheep hear his voice and follow him, (ch. 10, v.1-27). In addition, he also says that they will not listen to others because they have discernment to recognize his voice and obey his teachings.

He also affirms, at the end of his ministry, that the Holy Spirit would come and speak to us and teach us.

“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. 14He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.” John 16: 13-14

In the book of Acts, at the birth of the Church on the day of Pentecost, Peter affirms that the pouring out of the Spirit which Jesus promised was also a fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel which said,

“'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” – Acts 2:17-18

From that day forward, the followers of Jesus became empowered to preach the Gospel, baptize new believers, plant churches, and share communion with other believers. Everyone who was in Christ was automatically ordained into the ministry of Jesus Christ, and every follower of Jesus was “...being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." – 1 Peter 2:5

Throughout the New Testament, Paul and the other disciples affirm this ongoing dialog between Jesus and His people.

“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.” – 1 John 2:27

Paul says, "I myself am convinced, my brethren, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another." - Romans 15:14

"For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged". - 1 Corinthians 14:31

What I find fascinating is that, according to Jesus and the Apostles, every believer is capable of hearing the voice of God, and yet, in today’s modern church we typically find that only one, or perhaps a few, are expected to hear God’s voice and communicate His will to the Body.

Why is that?

Partly because we have created a false Clergy/Laity divide which falsely teaches (or at least models) the idea that only those who have attended seminary and/or graduated from Bible College are capable of hearing God’s voice or instructing the Body.

As one New Testament scholar, Howard Snyder, put it:

"The clergy-laity dichotomy is…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.”

Essentially, in spite of the fact that the veil in the temple was torn in two “at that moment” when Christ said “It is finished” we have virtually re-sewn the veil and re-instituted our own levitical priesthood system.

Like the people of Israel in the days of King Saul, we want “a king like all the other nations have” – someone to rule over us and mediate for us. Like them, we have rejected God as our King and our Lord and have elected representatives who will listen to His voice in our stead.

Clearly, the New Testament reveals that Jesus, by His blood, purchased for us the right to become “a kingdom of priests to serve God” (Revelations 1:6) and also in chapter 5:

"You (Jesus) are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." - Revelations 5:9-10

Numerous New Testament scholars affirm that this man-made Clergy/Laity distinction came much later in the historical church and created a false hierarchy within.

“This (clergy/laity) 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, Upstairs, Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?, Crossroad, 1997, p.109.

"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.

In spite of these man-made aberrations to God’s original intent for His New Testament Church, it’s still possible for us as the people of God to hear His voice today. Jesus promised that we, His sheep, were capable of hearing His voice. He promised to send His Holy Spirit to fill us and to reveal all truth to us, and we know that He did that – both at Pentecost and when we personally received Christ as our Lord and Savior.

So, what’s stopping us today from hearing God’s voice? Clearly, only our own lack of desire to draw near to Him and to listen. Of course, what’s also stopping us is the dominant Clergy/Laity system which forbids those designated as “laity” from sharing what we hear with our brothers and sisters. The life and ministry of the Body to “one another” is strangled by this man-made, unbiblical system.

Still, if there’s one thing I am convinced of, it is this: God is fully capable of speaking His will to His people. He has promised us that we – directly – can hear His voice without the need for any mediator between God and us. We can hear God. He can speak to us and we can know His voice.

May we draw near to listen to Him, and may His Bride make room for His voice to be spoken as He intended: Through the distribution of the Gifts of the Spirit, for the common good. (1 Cor 12).

If we are acquainted individually with the idea of submitting ourselves daily to Christ as Lord and Savior, let us carry that into our gatherings together and submit together to Him as our Head, our Lord and let Him lead our meeting and speak to us as we wait on Him.

If we truly believe that Christ is made manifest in our presence at the Lord’s table, and if we seriously believe that Christ is alive in each of us, then let us demonstrate this by acting as we would if Jesus were among us in the flesh. Let us keep silent and let Him speak and lead His people.



Adam said...

But that's too uncomfortable, Keith. Holy Spirit?!? "Voice" of Jesus?!? Too creepy. I'd much rather sit quietly in the pew and have something handed to me. Or frequent Christian bookstores that have thousands of titles on any topic I need help with, by an author who clearly has more 'in' with the Holy Spirit than I do. Or get the Bible du jour, that contains whatever commentary by whatever teacher customized for my position in life, worded in a slightly better way so I won't have to think as much, or God forbid, trust the Holy Spirit to actually teach me something. Maybe, just maybe, any one of these things can give me that "buzz" I had long ago when the Holy Spirit convicted and convinced my soul, and I can live on that for a few hours, days, maybe even weeks all the while thinking how much I've grown spiritually.

Anonymous said...

Nice article. I worship with a congregation that does not actively have the "clergy/laity" divide, no "pastors" or ordained ministers etc. And still we treat our minister/preacher and leaders as a clergy. It must be something in the human mind that wants this. I suspect it is just too easy to sit and let someone else do everything and pass the responsibility plate on to someone else.
But, despite this, when I visit another church the divide smacks me right in the face. I could not attend a church where there is a pastor and his flock. We encourage all our members to be ministers. We work to train and equip the saints. We are not attempting to separate the people of God.
Thanks for the very Biblical thoughts.