The collective assembly of those who follow Jesus, the metaphorical body of Christ, is severely out of balance here in 21st century America. The body is malnourished—lacking in nutrients that are critical to development. The severe imbalance in American Christianity is due primarily to one unbiblical practice that infects nearly every congregation of every denomination: the reliance on paid clergy. Virtually every church is almost entirely dependent on one man for spiritual guidance. That man is the Pastor (Bishop, Priest, Reverend, you pick)—the titular head of the church and the one who is considered to be the spiritual authority over the congregation, despite precautions from Jesus and the apostles against this practice.
Every week, congregations across the country gather and passively listen to clergymen and women deliver a sermon—a religious lecture which, instructive as it may be, is a poor substitute for personal spiritual development. The sermon’s success is gauged by the emotional impact that it imparts. The more empowered or guilty the congregation feels, the more effective the sermon is deemed to be. But what’s wrong with having one person devote his life to studying the Bible, serving as head administrator over the church, and preaching one or more weekly sermons to the congregation? While it may not be scriptural, strictly speaking, don’t we have the freedom to worship as we see fit?
The vast majority of pastors have a sincere desire to help others and point them to God; but there are several serious problems caused by having a paid pastor. Here is a list of the most serious problems, in no particular order.
Having a paid pastor…
- Dumbs down the laity
- Generates an inbred theology
- Establishes a hierarchy within the assembly
- Breeds complacency
- Places an undue share of the burden on one person’s shoulders
- Inhibits the functioning of the other members and suppresses the use of their spiritual gifts
While each of these problems deserves its own detailed discussion, we’ll save those for another time, widen our aperture slightly, and look at the collective result of these problems: the malnourishment of the body.
Mainstream Christians have been overdosing on the spoon-feeding of the clergy for most of the last 1,900 years. What is missing is the nourishing and sustaining input of the rest of the body. The wealth of perspectives, insight, talent, and gifts of the Holy Spirit that are resident in the rest of the assembly are stifled, relegated to “small-group” classes (which are frequently simply another monologue) or occasional, sanctioned performances. The lack of input from the majority of Christians has left the body severely malnourished, anemic, lethargic.
Institutional Christianity is little more than intellectual and spiritual tyranny which is controlled by the corporate overlords—the clergy. It is a system that stifles the majority of the body and fosters an environment that allows two toxic attitudes to flourish: lust for power and laziness. The laymen and women are occasionally encouraged to “search the Scriptures as the Bereans did” in order to verify that the lecturer is actually delivering a message that is in accordance with their denominational narrative. Dialogue is almost nonexistent, however; and dissenting opinions are almost never tolerated.
While most Christians that languish under this system sincerely believe that they are doing the right thing by attending ritualistic religious services week after week, they are in fact, contributing to the ongoing malnourishment of the body.
Are you content with sitting in your church pew, thinking that spiritual guidance is far too important to be left to non-professionals? Look at the example that Jesus and his disciples left for us. Consider their teaching and admonition that every member is considered a priest with direct access to God and a responsibility for ensuring the welfare of the body. Every believer is empowered by the Holy Spirit to fill a certain function or functions in the body. Each one has something to contribute.
We all have a responsibility to function within and take care of the body. The religious institutions that pass for spiritual education centers have left the body malnourished and lifeless.
It’s little wonder that American Christianity has been proven to be almost completely ineffective at bringing healing to a world suffering from necrosis. Christians must restore their “body” to health before they can bring healing to others. I think that if we were to do that, the result in the culture would be akin to an explosion of life in a desert. The potential for good is truly limitless. The question is, are we willing to set aside our man-made institutions in order to take part in the reconciliation that God is bringing to the world?