In your letter you say, “There are a number of good sisters who would like an explanation from the Scriptures of the four offices in the Church: clergy, bishops, deacons and priests.”
Last month some remarks were expressed concerning officialism in the churches of God from the light of what is stated in the New Testament. As promised, we shall continue to seek further explanation from God’s Word upon the subjects which you have raised. Let us commence with the first one.
The understanding of what is the clergy in Christendom might be expressed as the body of men set apart by proper ordination to the service of God. This special body stands in contradistinction to the laity. While in early Church history there was no strongly marked difference between the clergy and the laity, with the passing of time and the development of ecclesiastical hierarchy a distinction has been made very obvious.
Let us turn together to the Word of God. We shall not find the word “clergy” in the King James Version of the New Testament, but in the Greek it appears in more than one form. Its proper meaning might be expressed by our English words: inheritance, allotment, or portion. Some have suggested that it approaches the idea of selection, for it is derived from the action of making choice by means of casting lots.
Paul’s prison epistles to the Ephesians and to the Colossians intimate that he was living far above the dreary circumstances of incarceration and that he was even then enjoying the saints portion in Christ.
In Ephesians 1:11, he states, “In Whom (Christ) we have obtained an inheritance.” It has been suggested that here the Holy Spirit is teaching the believers that through Christ they had been brought into the inheritance, into the Divine selection or clergy; and, consequently, formed part of the Divine portion. Through grace believers have been assigned to the inheritance. The Apostle was so thoroughly enjoying his portion in Christ, that throughout this passage he communicates the knowledge that the redeemed have an inheritance in and through Christ, and the Lord has an inheritance in His people. Paul is anxious that they realize something of “the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints (Eph. 1:8). Truly the Lord’s portion is His people.
By carefully noting Paul’s use of the pronouns “we” and “ye” (which must be understood to mean “we” Jews and “ye” Gentiles), it will be easily discerned that all believers, both Jews and Gentiles, have been brought into God’s clergy. In his prayer for the Colossians (Col. 1:9-12), he gives thanks, and he hopes that they likewise will give thanks, unto the Father, which made them meet or competent for a share of the inheritance of the saints in light.
These considerations can lead us to but one conclusion, that all God’s children of this present dispensation are members of the Divine clergy, the Divine inheritance, and that in the purposes of God and in the process by which His purposes are accomplished, there is no distinction of ceremonial class in the Church, but that all are one in Christ (Col. 3:11; Gal. 3:28).
There is a very interesting word used by the Lord in His message to the church in Pergamos (Rev. 2:12-17). “So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.”
It has been argued that the Nicolaitanes were a sect that followed Nicolas (Acts 6:5) and that their deeds and doctrines were similar to the deeds and doctrines of Balaam, but the lack of historical evidence to prove the existence of such a sect, forces us to reject as unsatisfactory such an explanation.
The untranslated word, Nicolaitanes means, “Rulers over the laity or the people”, and really is clerisy. It is of clerisy the Lord declares, “Which thing I hate.”
There is no question, that there was, even in apostolic days, a tendency toward a clergy, for Peter, in writing to the elders, says, “Neither as being Lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3).
Thank God for deliverance from the bondage of an official clergy, but let us beware of the danger of an unofficial clergy.
Let us, as the people of God, rejoice that we are among God’s selection, His portion; and rejoice that we have a rich inheritance, both present and future, in our blessed Lord Jesus Christ.
Sincerely yours in Him,