I recently had lunch with a full-time pastor for whom I have the utmost respect. We eventually began discussing my struggle with whether or not to remain an "ordained" elder in our denomination. That led to a deeper discussion about my struggle with the separation of clergy and laity into two distinct classes of Christians: Those who are permitted to do ministry and those to whom the ministry is done.
We covered all the bases around the field of ministry leadership. And finally he said something that, on face value, made sense.
"Bill, if you look at the Old Testament and the great leaders God put into place, you'll find that most of the times when things went wrong, it came out of the masses, not out of the leaders."
After lunch I found myself thinking about this throughout the afternoon. It seemed to make sense. God raised up Moses as the anointed One to lead the masses out of captivity. God raised up Joshua as the anointed One to capture the Promised Land. God raised up David as the anointed One to lead Israel as a man after God's own heart. God raised up the prophets as anointed Ones to speak truth to the wayward masses. On the other hand, it was the masses that caused Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years. It was the masses who made the gold calf. It was the masses who decided to leave the Godless nations in place as a snare to Israel. It was the masses who decided that Israel needed a human king like the other nations and got Saul as their king.
I see clearly that this principle of the anointed One leading the needy masses is present in the Old Testament. But...
Enter Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
I see a fundamental change in the order of things with the coming of Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit. As soon as Jesus came on the scene and began his ministry, he began to overturn the old order and put a new order in place. Jesus certainly was the anointed One to atone for humanity. But he seemed to be saying with his life and teaching that the focus will move away from the anointed-One mentality toward the empowered many.
He immediately began raising up twelve men to do what he did and promised that they would even do more than he did. Those empowered twelve became an empowered 120 on Pentecost. On the same day the empowered 120 became the empowered 3,120. Shortly thereafter, the empowered 3,120 had grown to the empowered 5,000.
The church grew exponentially with thousands and thousands of believers being filled with the Holy Spirit. But it wasn't long before they began trying to reverse the order that Jesus had inaugurated. The Corinthians began to shift the focus away from the empowered many back to the anointed One. They began exalting certain people with certain gifts, and they began dividing and grouping themselves around the "celebrity" ministers. Paul finally had to write a letter to instruct them to knock it off, function as a body, and recognize only Christ himself as the head of the church.
Fast-forward to the fourth century. By the end of the century you find a complete shift away from the empowered many to the anointed One in the form of Popes, bishops, and priests. And throughout the church age, nearly every heretical movement or act of treachery (crusades, inquisitions, indulgences) came not out of the masses but out of the elite community of the anointed Ones.
Isn't it time that we returned to the revelation that Christ alone is the head of the church, and the church is a body of many parts - a temple of living stones - with every member being empowered by the Holy Spirit to live lives of holiness as participants in the redemptive mission of God to a wayward humanity?