by Fletcher Lowe
We in the Church are accustomed to making a distinction between the clergy and the laity. We do that so often and so automatically that we’ve lost an awareness of the historical context for those two words.
In The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, authors Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens offer a humorous view of how artificial that distinction is:
In common speech clergy is a term used to describe a religious official, certain members of a religious order or a pastoral leader of a church or denomination.
Its counterpart is laity – the untrained, uneducated, common members of the church. This two-people approach to the church is anachronistic and unbiblical (see Laity). We look in vain in the Bible for laypersons in the sense of untrained, unequipped and not-called. Those words available in the ancient world to describe laypeople (in the common sense) – laikos and idiotes – were never used by inspired writers to describe Christians. Instead we are introduced to the whole people of God – designated by the word laos (the people) – who, including leaders, together are the true ministers. The Greek word for clergy (kleros) is used to describe the dignity and appointment of all the people to ministry. So paradoxically the church has no laypeople in the usual sense of that word and yet is full of clergy in the original meaning of that word.