Question: "Is the distinction between clergy and laity biblical?"

Answer: Neither the word clergy nor the word laity appears in the Bible. These are terms that are commonly used today to refer to “the person in the pulpit” versus “the people in the pews.” While believers have different callings and gifts (Romans 12:6), they are all servants of the Lord (Romans 14:4).

Paul considered himself a “brother” and “fellow servant” with Tychicus (Colossians 4:7). The same was true for Paul and Epaphras (Colossians 1:7). Epaphroditus was Paul’s “brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25). Paul and Timothy called themselves the “servants” of the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 4:5). Peter viewed Silas as his “faithful brother” (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.

The distinction between “professional ministry” and “lay ministry” arose when churches stopped identifying leaders out of their own congregations and began “calling” them from other places. During at least the first century of the church’s history, most churches recognized God’s hand on their own members, qualifying and calling them into leadership roles. Almost every New Testament reference to local church leadership, whether “pastor,” “elder,” or “overseer,” reveals this to be so. For one example, compare 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and 5:17–20 with Acts 20:17–38. Titus 1:5–9 is another example.

Gradually, things changed until, in some parts of the Christian world, the “professional,” full-time ministers began to be identified as representing “The Church,” while the “non-professionals” were seen as adherents or attenders 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.

Bible passages such as 1 Corinthians 12 through 14, much of Ephesians, and Romans 12 ought to be kept in mind. All of these passages emphasize the real brotherhood of all believers in Jesus Christ and the humility that all need to demonstrate as we exercise our spiritual gifts and offices to bless each other.