That may sound like a weird question coming out of a guy who has been designated ‘clergy’ for sixty years, . . . but honestly, I don’t find such a designation anywhere in the New Testament documents, and I am so often embarrassed at some of the persons out there on the public stage who so designate themselves, and who love to be called reverend, and who don’t seem to personify much that Jesus taught about “those who would be great must be servant of all.” I have discovered a whole lot of poor lost souls in my career who were “in the ministry” looking for themselves and trying to find some significance for their lives. They became church professionals, and far more institution-keepers than true teaching shepherds.

Someone (maybe G. K. Chesterton?) whimsically commented that the church was far too serious as an enterprise to be left up to clergy.

Having said all of that, there are also those remarkable persons who have brought life and health and nurture and equipping to multitudes of saints across many centuries, who have been in the category of clergy. If one looks at the communities of Christian faith across a broad spectrum of the church in the world, there are nearly always those who have emerged from within the community who are those of authentic faith and discipleship, those persons of love and of wisdom, to whom the community actually looks for leadership. Such folk are often the ones who are the actual overseers, or wisdom figures, or models who give healthy leadership. They have most often never been to theological schools, and have never sought importance, but have been true shepherds.

Some studies show that the whole idea of clergy emerged about the time that the Emperor Constantine made the Christian faith into the official religion of the Roman Empire (or soon thereafter), and wanted his new-found (ostensible) faith to have the same accouterments as the pagan religions did, i.e., priesthood, sanctuaries, liturgies, etc. But at some time in the shadowy past there emerged the whole notion of a special designation of sacralized persons, called clergy who were other than the ordinary followers of Christ. Somehow this also seems to be a contradiction of Biblical documents in which all of God’s people are to be “equipped for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4), or, that we are “a nation of priests” (I Peter 2:9). . Or, that, as Peter also wrote: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that in the world . . .” (II Peter 1:2-4). It doesn’t get much better than that.

I have had a wonderful adult career being one who has sought to form folk in that knowledge that, in turn, forms them into the divine nature. I have always rejoiced to be able to be a teacher and a mentor and a model for all kinds of wonderful people. I am at this point in my life also the recipient of the gifts of those who have, and continue to encourage and nurture me. But the reason that such have this role is because they are authentic, wise and knowledgeable models and mentors of what they are teaching, . . . not because of a divinity degree from some theological school, or some rite of ordination that designates them as clergy.

This is to say that the designation of some as clergy still confuses me. My snarky response to folk is that you can call me all kinds of bad names, only don’t call me ‘reverend.’ There, I’ve said it. I’d love your feedback, and your recommendation of this Blog to your friends.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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