Call & Culture

19-4Reformation 2010, Volume XIX, Number 4Table of Contents

(A feature article from the journal: Origin of the Term Laity by Albert Collver)

The term laity first appeared during the time of the Apostolic Fathers in Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians. According to tradition, Clement was the fourth bishop of Rome during the latter part of the /rst century.[1] Origen[2] and Eusebius[3] state that Clement is mentioned in Philippians 4:3 as one who labors with Paul in the gospel.[4] "A Clement is also mentioned in the Shepherd of Hermas, Vis. ii. 4, 3, in which it is stated that it was his duty to write to other churches."5 Clement's Epistle to the Corinthians has been dated between 75 and 110 A.D. Many scholars regard the most probable date as the last decade of the first century.[6] Although this is an early occurrence of the term laity, it occurs after much or all of the New Testament had been written.

Clement writes to the Corinthians because some thirty or forty years after St. Paul wrote them, the congregation was still troubled. In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses - among other problems - a schism that developed in the congregation. Some claimed to follow Paul while others claimed to follow Apollos and still others claimed to follow Christ (1 Cor 1:23; 3:4-5, 22). Paul asks how they can be divided when Christ is not divided (1 Cor 1:24). He also asks them who is Paul or Apollos? They were merely servants who proclaimed the faith to the Corinthians (1 Cor 3:5). In part, the issue St. Paul addressed was "Which pastor should we follow?" Paul teaches them that what is important is not the man who does the preaching, but that the preaching is carried on, and by that preaching, faith is created and forgiveness is bestowed. The man who does the preaching is merely the authorized - that is, called and ordained - instrument the Lord uses to distribute his means of grace.

Thirty or forty years later, Clement, like Paul, is dealing with "an abominable and unholy schism."[7] Thee schism that Clement has to deal with is of a different sort than that of St. Paul. "Polarization occurred over regular church prayer meetings and, in particular, over the ministry performed by presbyters whose position the young laics (40:5) coveted. The strife reached its peak in the action of the more numerous party. They removed some of the duly appointed presbyters from their positions, although apparently not all of them. What made the action inexcusable to Clement is that the presbyters gave no occasion for it: They had fulfilled their ministry blamelessly (44:6)."[8] or download the rest of this article here (free, PDF)

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