This past Sunday, in our small group (I would call it a church but some call it a class), God moved. One lady (Melissa) spontaneously praised Him that she was experiencing the joy of her salvation. Another (Vivian) sang a beautiful, self-composed song of praise to Jesus that had been inspired by the group’s discussion from our previous gathering. The only thing lovelier than the testimony, words, and “a capella” singing was the movement of the Holy Spirit that had enlightened these ladies’ hearts. God used their spiritual sensitivity, purposeful service, and active contribution to point me to Jesus. It was true koinonia. Unfortunately, such divine synergy is often lacking in our assembling together.

The institutional church has inadvertently (I would like to think) created a clergy/laity dichotomy. Often times we see professional clergy being the ones “responsible” for our biblical education, edification, ministry, service, and even our worship. Isn’t that why we “tithe”?  So we, the laity, can “go to church” for an hour or so and get those paid professionals to do our spiritual heavy lifting for us. That way, during the rest of the week, we are absolved of the legwork of Godward pursuits such as devotional time, prayer, deep bible study, worshipful praise, ministry, service, fellowship, mutual encouragement, and missions in the space that we have been placed. After all, we went to “church” on Sunday.

I’ve come to believe the early followers of Christ we more participatory than that – both at their meetings (1 Corinthians 14:26) and certainly in their daily lives. They buoyed one another and were demonstrative about their faith (Hebrews 10:24-25; Colossians 3:16). There was an atmosphere of intentional and vibrant mutual exhortation and the continuous use of their spiritual gifts through an inclusive functioning of the Body of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12). They weren’t looking to paid clergy to be and do the body-life and missional work of Jesus for His church. Things were more organic than that. The approach was more bottom up than top down. As a matter of fact, the approach was unified, non-hierarchical, and dynamic (Acts 2:42-47). There were no professionals in the pulpits and passive onlookers in the pews. It is highly doubtful there were even pulpits and pews at all.

Why did the clergy/laity dichotomy and dependence on “ministers” and pastors not exist in the first century church?  Because they were all functioning as priests to each other and the world around them.  Peter said, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.…” (1 Peter 2:9). In other words, we are all priests chosen to display the infinite value and supremacy of the One who has called us. We do that through the expression of individual gifts being used for the corporate good of His glorious church (which is His beautiful bride). In that organic and dynamic demonstration His worthy praises are proclaimed.

And who designed us all to be priests and kingdom ministers?  Our gorgeous Savior, Jesus. John tells us, “Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father–to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen” (Revelation 1:5-6). We must note that He made His bride to be this way.

And why did He design His church this way? Clearly, so that we all might image forth who He is and reverberate the truth that His is the glory and power for all of eternity! Just like Melissa and Vivian did last Sunday. I’m blessed I was there to experience the functioning, organic Body of Christ through the ministry of these two dear women. May we take their example as an admonishment to cease being passive in our pews.