There are some local churches that repudiate the clerical system, refusing to have what might be called a one-man ministry. And yet if you were to ask many of the Christians in those churches for a scriptural defense of their position, they would be hard put to give an answer. Why is it wrong to have a one-man ministry in the local assembly?
The first reason is because it is not found in the New Testament. The assemblies in apostolic times consisted of saints, bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). The bishops, or elders, are always spoken of in the plural. Not one elder over a church, but several elders in each church. Bible historians agree that the clerical system arose in the second century; it was not found in the churches of the New Testament.
Secondly, the clerical system generally ignores the purpose for which the gifts of evangelist, pastor and teacher were given to the church. The function of these gifts is to build up the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (Eph. 4:12). In other words, Christian service is not the function of any one class but the responsibility of all believers. It is only as each one fulfills his function that the body will develop and mature. The function of the gifts listed in Eph. 4:11 is to build up the saints to the point where they are mature, functioning members of the body. Thus, these particular gifts are temporary aids, not permanent fixtures.
When one man is responsible for all the teaching and preaching in a local church, there is always the danger that people will gather to him, not to the Lord. If a man is especially gifted, people are drawn to his preaching. They attend because he is there. If he leaves for any reason, then they are apt to follow him, or if this is not possible, they often drift elsewhere, looking for another gifted man.
Christ should be the gathering Center of His people (Matt. 18:20). We should be drawn by His presence, not by a man. When believers see this and act upon it, the local assembly need not be shaken by the departure of any man. An assembly where Christians gather to Christ has strength, stability and solidarity.
And, of course, there are potential dangers when all or most of the teaching in a local church is done by one man. People tend to accept his word as authoritative. If they are not studying the Scriptures for themselves, they are not in a good position to discern error.
In addition, no one man is able to provide the diversity of ministry that is possible when the Holy Spirit has liberty to speak through several men. We must be concerned not only with ministry that is doctrinally accurate, but also with ministry that provides a balanced diet for the people of God. The scriptural injunction is, "Let the prophets speak two or three and let the others judge" (I Cor. 14:29).
A one-man ministry too often stifles the development of gift in a local church. There is not the same opportunity for others to participate. Some ministers insist on confining most of the work to themselves; they resent anyone else's intruding into their office. But even where this is not the case even where ministers would like to see others participating-the very nature of the clerical system discourages the so-called layman from developing his God-given gifts.
When one man is salaried by the local congregation as preacher, there is often a subtle temptation to water down the message. It should not be so, but the fact is that by controlling a minister's salary, the congregation often cuts itself off from receiving the full counsel of God.
Now we recognize that there are many great men of God in the clerical system who preach the gospel faithfully, teach the Word, and seek to shepherd the sheep of Christ. And God is using them.
We also recognize that there are many "one-man ministers" who do not have the clerical spirit. They have a sincere desire to help the saints in every possible way, to lead by example, and not to lord it over God's heritage.
And we also realize that it is possible for someone who is not a clergyman to have the clerical spirit. In III John 9-11, for example, we read of Diotrephes who acted as a tyrant in a local assembly.
But the fact remains that the clerical system is basically wrong and unscriptural. The world will never be evangelized in the way that God intended, and the church will never be built up according to the divine plan as long as the distinction between clergy and laity is maintained.