Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't Call Me "Reverend" And Don't Label Me "Clergy"

I've been a licensed or ordained minister for nearly fifty years, but I've never been comfortable being referred to as a "Reverend" or a member of the "clergy".

Here's why:

In the first place, there's simply no Biblical precedent for either of those labels being applied to certain believers who are to be elevated above the rest. There are of course respected congregational offices like pastor, overseer, elder, bishop, deacon, evangelist, and teacher, to name only a few, but these are functional descriptions of how people serve, not titles separating professional "clergy" from "laity".

The Greek form of the word "laity" in the New Testament is "laos", which simply means "people", or "the people of God".  There is no suggestion in scripture that when someone is appointed to some church office that he or she is no longer a part of the laos. This is in contrast to some denominations where the ordained clergy cannot even be considered members of the congregations they serve, but have their membership in the district council or presbytery to which they belong.

One of the published studies that made a big impression on me years ago was "The Christian Calling" by Virgil Vogt, then a member of Reba Place, a Mennonite intentional community. He makes a clear case that all believers are "called", and all have fundamentally the same "calling", that of continuing the ministry Jesus began here on earth through his Body, the church. Our differing gifts merely shape how and in what setting we carry out that one calling, not the nature of the calling itself, for which we are ordained in our baptism.

This has been a defining and liberating concept for me: Our gifts differ, and our assignments are varied, but our status is the same, and our calling is one--to love, honor and serve God together in communities of faith we call the church.

Church historian Charles Jacobs, in The Story of the Church, writes:  "In the beginning most of the work of the congregation was done by people who had no official position.  It was voluntary service, freely rendered.  By the middle of the third century, it was done by the professional clergy.  Between clergymen and laity there was a sharp distinction.  The clergy, too, were divided into higher and lower grades. In the higher grades were bishops, presbyters and deacons; in the lower grade sub-deacons, lectors, exorcists, acolytes and janitors.  All of them were inducted into office by some form of ordination, and the idea of local organization had gone so far that in some churches even the grave diggers were ordained.  Thus the work of the Church was passing out of the hands of the many into those of the few, and these few were coming to be regarded as belonging to a higher class."

So please honor my protest. Just call me Harvey, a pastor, counselor and a forever member of the laos, the people.
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