Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Systematic Theology

First Advisor

Charles Arand

Scripture References in this Resource

1 Peter 2; Psalm 110


The distinction between the laity and clergy has been a contributing cause of disunity within the church because the clergy and laity are often pitted against one another with one or the other being elevated to the detriment of the other. This problem has plagued the church from the middle ages until the present day. Since the definition of the term “laity” is vacuous, the laity are generally defined relative to the clergy, specifically in reference to their authority and duties. This results in a negative definition when the laity are defined as the opposite of the clergy. The laity may be defined by service or duties, someone who does not preach the Gospel and administer the sacraments; by status, someone who is not ordained and does not have a title such as “pastor;” by education, someone who is not theologically trained; by remuneration, someone who is not full-time and paid; and by lifestyle, someone who lives not a religious life (vocation) but a secular life outside the church. The laity are defined by who they are not. The question still remains regarding who the laity are in their own right and not in contrast to the clergy. Some define the clergy in terms of service to the church while the laity are in service the world. Others define clergy with respect to status and while the laity are defined by their duties or service. Others define the laity as priests in a way that denies Christ’s priesthood. Some define laity by making a distinction in public versus private speaking of the Gospel, and others confuse the issue with discussion regarding ordained ministers and lay ministers. Instead of using the theological terms “clergy” or “priest” to define the laity, the use of the term “Christian” to define the laity resolves the confusion and conflict. It is Christ and his gifts in baptism that make Christians and thus define the identity and role of the Christian. This gives positive content to our understanding of the laity by means of Christ’s gifts. To speak of the laity as Christians further unifies the church by recognizing that some Christians are called to exercise Christ’s priestly office for the sake of the church. Luther and the Lutheran Confessions give a positive and revitalizing definition to the laity by teaching that Christ’s priestly office is exercised in his church through the proclamation of the Gospel to which Christians respond by offering sacrifices of thanksgiving and praise, and by offering their lives as living sacrifices to God in church and society. This Lutheran approach navigates between the Baptist doctrine which defines the laity according to service, and the Roman Catholic doctrine which defines the laity according to a lesser status than the clergy before God. Lutheran doctrine teaches that all Christians have the status of being holy before God and that all Christians proclaim the promises of the Gospel and serve their neighbors in love according to their vocations or stations in life.

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.