Webster’s Dictionary of Synonyms lists secular, temporal, and profane as parallels to the term lay, while spiritual, religious, and sacred are given as contrasting words. I doubt if it takes deep religious psychoanalysis to see that this use of words points to a basic heresy that has been with us for years. What we have here is a heavy semantic hangover from the Roman Catholic concept of priesthood. Luther’s recapture of the concept of the priesthood of all believers has not yet influenced the dictionary.

The New Testament clearly teaches that all Christians are to be ministers. Anything else clearly violates Christ’s demands of discipleship. When he spoke of self-denial, of taking up the cross daily, and of comradeship with him, there was never the vaguest hint of a select upper crust of professional Christians under which lay a stratum of amateurs for whom a lower level of dedication was acceptable.

Not only the demands of discipleship hit hard at our traditional thinking on this issue but also the structure of the New Testament Church. This was intended to equip the saints (all of them) for the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:12). Christ has reconciled us to himself by the cross and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:15–20). If reconciliation is for all, then obviously the ministry is for all as well.

Hendrik Kraemer points out that in the New Testament the words kleros (root of clergy) and laos (root of laity) both refer to the same group of people. I defy the idea that because a man makes his livelihood in the secular world, God expects only a partial commitment of his life. In medicine, technology, and science, “layman” means the casual, indifferent, uninformed amateur contrasted with the dedicated ...

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