Classless Church

In the June issue of The Atlantic, James Carroll wrote an article entitled, “To Save The Church, Dismantle the Priesthood.” When I saw the cover of the magazine and it listed this featured article, I knew that I had to read what appeared to be a disconcerting concept.

In the article, Carroll presents an argument for removing the clerical titles which have been a significant part of the church hierarchy. His reasoning for this is that these titles separate and give power to a certain class of members which leads to corruption. He argues that this is why there has been rampant sexual misconduct among the clergy because the clergy protect their “class.” My intent is not to argue in support or opposition to what Carroll states but instead to consider what the pros and cons of the removal of a clergy class in the church. Also, I will not be able to fully cover all the arguments in this post.

Beginning with some pros for this change in the church. I do think that Carroll has a valid point that in some denominations, clergy are able to hide behind a code of secrecy among their peers. When their peers are charged with the task of investigating and trying an accused colleague, accountability may come into question. The one way this works is that there is such a high level of transparency in the process and a structured process which can be problematic as well. Elimination of a special designation for clergy could have the potential of placing the handling of misconduct on a more level ground.

Another possible pro to the elimination of a clergy designation is that it would actually require more commitment from the rest of the members. Part of being a member of the clergy is that certain responsibilities and expectations are placed upon the individual. If one person is not given a title which automatically requires fulfillment of these responsibilities and expectations, then those will need to be divided among others within the church.

However, a change as being proposed here comes with issues. The first issue is that organizations quickly struggle if there is not identifiable leadership. While there are aspects of the work which can be managed through group leadership, there are logistical aspects which require a designated person with the correct skills in place. The reality of humans is that we all are given different abilities so there is an inherent division based on skills and abilities. The church has always considered clergy to have a specific role based on their skills and abilities. My denominational background refers to this as separate in responsibilities but equal in faith.

Another issue is that some responsibilities and expectations within the church require specialized training. The method for this training has traditionally been through learning institutions which are called seminaries. Degrees are obtained confirming that the individual has received the necessary education to reasonably fulfill the unique responsibilities and expectations referred to the clergy. Due to the intensity of study needed to obtain that knowledge, not every person sitting in the pew can be expected to obtain this education. So individuals are chosen through a variety of means to obtain such education and training and then return to the church and fulfill the specific responsibilities and expectations.

Again, this is just scratching the surface but my conclusion is that while creating a classless church may solve some problems which now exist, other problems will arise. Does the church need reformation and restructuring? YES Should the individuals in the pews take on more responsibilities? YES Does the elimination of the designation clergy solve all the problems? NO The church is made up of humans who are imperfect, from top to bottom. This truth means that problems will always exist. The true question is are we willing to adapt, learn, relearn, and reform.

Purpose of the Church – Part 3

If you have been following my posts about the purpose of the Church, you know that I have identified what I view the Church as not being and what I view the Church as being. (If you have missed them, here are the links: Purpose of the Church – Part 1 & Purpose of the Church – Part 2.) Today, I will share my final post dedicated to this specific topic.

At the end of Part 2, I quoted a passage from the Gospel of Matthew. Here it is again:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:18-19

I indicated that the Church has the responsibility to look after the welfare of all people. But how do we live out being this Church? There are 7.7 billion people and a finite amount of resources. What aspects of an individual’s welfare should we be addressing? What do we do about those who do not even believe in God? How about people who are not Christian, do we have a responsibility to them? The Church exists for those who are members, does it not? Questions that are nothing more than a smoke screen of excuses.

Like a multitude of aspects of life, we tend to complicate that which is truly very simple. We spend so much time identifying the hurdles to whatever we may be called to do that we miss the opportunities which are right before our eyes. We think only within what we know and not what could be.

I believe that living as the Church means living where we are now. By that, I mean that we address what is around us and not what is out of our realm of touch. A friend of mine used to always do a benediction which included a line that reminded all the hearers that we are where we now are for a reason. If each of us who claimed to be part of the Church took a good look around ourselves, we would find individuals who have needs which we are uniquely qualified to meet. This does not require us to develop some new talent or skill, we already have been given that talent or skill to address that specific need. We may need to strengthen the talent or skill, or learn how to apply it better to the situation before us. Yet the core is already present within us.

Imagine if each participant in the Church applied themselves each day. The impact we could have in our community and neighboring communities could be tremendous. If this happened in every place and each day throughout the world where people claim to be a part of the Church, the Church would have a global impact which exceeds any of the world’s NGO’s today. The multiplied effect of individuals practicing this simple guidance could change the course of human existence.

Another positive reality of the Church living out its purpose is that when two or more individuals join together to follow this plan, their efforts are even stronger. This is why the Church exists as a community of people on a journey of faith together. Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) I believe that Jesus was not only talking about being together in worship or in a class, Jesus was talking about gathering to live as the Church. We support and strengthen one another as each of us lives out our purpose within the Church. The Church gains its purpose from the ones who join together in looking out for the welfare of all people.

If this is truly the attitude which we take as the Church, then all the excuses mentioned above drift away. The resources needed have already been provided. The belief system of the one in need has no bearing on our actions. The ones who claim to be members of the Church are having their needs met as they join in fellowship and work with each other.